I’m a big fan of the English language. It’s one of the only tongues I can speak semi-fluently, and the fact that people often mess it up is one of the biggest factors that keeps me employed. English may not sound as romantic as some other European languages (I’m looking at you, Romance Languages), and there may be a few disagreements on the correct way to pronounce words such as tomato or vitamin, but it’s endearing nevertheless. One of the greatest things about English is that it has become the de facto lingua franca across the globe, affording folks from all over a common language to communicate in.
That being said, the language is not without its own faults. One of the greatest failings of modern-day English, in my honest opinion, is the lack of a modern-day, culturally acceptable, feminine equivalent of the word “guy.” What may seem like a minor nuisance has actually caused me great emotional stress and has led me through a few tense internal moments while in conversation that I’ve had to navigate.
“Guy” has generally been established as an acceptable term to refer to an individual, typically a male, regardless of age. “Guys,” the plural of guy, is phrase often used to refer to a group of two or more people, typically groups of males but can also apply to groups of women as well as groups including both genders. I can refer to former fraternity brothers, current coworkers, or the cast of the upcoming Star Wars movie as “guys” and no one would bat an eye.
Though now we approach the issue at hand: how can I informally refer to a single woman or group of women? Using “guy” is hardly appropriate, for if I said “I’m meeting up with that guy I met at the bar yesterday,” the initial understanding would be that I am meeting a male figure. As previously mentioned I could still use the plural “guys” to refer to a group of women, i.e., “The guys on the New York Liberty played well tonight,” but if one didn’t know that the Liberty was a WNBA team one might assume the team was in a men’s league. There are a few outdated terms to match the meaning of “guy,” such as “doll,” “dame,” and “broad,” but I’d hardly feel comfortable using those terms seriously in polite company.
The alternative to using an informal term is to always just refer to my female acquaintances as “women” and “girls,” though using these terms can be tricky. Calling someone a “girl” who isn’t younger than, for argument’s sake, 14 could give the impression that I have a lack of respect for her. It can be seen as a form of talking down to someone. If I called someone a “girl,” they may think that I don’t believe they are mature enough for a given situation.
On the flip side, “woman” can be an equally tricky term. For someone who may not feel that old, referring to them as a “woman” may make them wonder how old I think they really look. It could give off the impression that they may be too mature for whatever scenario we’re discussing. For both “girl” and “woman” there’s an awkward phase from late adolescence through early adulthood that makes it difficult to accurately assign a moniker.
Though I may feel awkward saying these words, however, other women/girls say them seemingly with ease. I’ve tried to not call people my age “girls,” though I’ve seen my female acquaintances do so with some regularity. I’ve been tempted to let this be my invitation to join them, but I’ve refrained from doing so. It doesn’t approach the levels of more serious segmented language, for example the use of the N-word among different races in the USA, but I feel the a similar hesitation to pick a noun as I would before saying the N-word in karaoke.
Perhaps over time American society will come organically come up with a suitable term. There is also the chance that a modern day Shakespeare will invent a word suitable for this purpose and finally alleviate my angst. I don’t have an answer to when that day will come or any idea of what the word should be (well, I actually do have some ideas, but I’m too shy to bring them forward right now), but eagerly wait for the day when it’s universally adopted.
What do you think an appropriate, informal, feminine version of the word “guy” should be? Am I just imagining the dire need for the creation of such a word? Have you too struggled with it? Am I guilty of a serious mansplaining offense? Let me know, please.