The death of words

Edward R. Murrow said of Winston Churchill in 1940, “Now the hour had come for him to mobilize the English language and send it into battle….” President Kennedy later used this quote when presenting Churchill with honorary American citizenship. 

Winston Churchill

It’s still at war, only now it’s under attack.

English morphs as times change. Words fall in and out of favor. Normally, they are simply dropped and become archaic. 

“Groovy” was cool for a while. Then it was uncool and seems to have been relegated to the dustbin of the language. “Cool” was cool, until it became not cool. Then it made a comeback. Cool is cool once more. 

Want to know what’s not cool?

Ladies.

Actual female humans are still cool. Some are even so cool, they’re hot. But the word itself – “Ladies” – is apparently no longer cool.

I was informed of this at a recent family gathering. Three young adult (mid 20 to mid 30 range) females XX humans of my extended clan biologically related group, assured me that “ladies” was out.

“How dare you presume my gender?” one asked, lightheartedly (I believe).

“It’s derogatory,” said another.

“So, when I said, ‘Hey, ladies, what’s up?’ I was using demeaning language?”

“Well, not you, but if someone called me, or a group of us ‘ladies’ at work, that would be bad.”

“My apologies,” I said.

“You don’t have to apologize. We know you didn’t mean anything by it.”

It was a teaching moment. They taught me. 

Since then, I have asked three groups of XX chromosomal individuals about this. One group agreed that the term could be construed as derogatory. Two disagreed. One group went as far as to say that they liked it. It seemed respectful. This last group was in Central Texas. Geography and local culture come into play.

I used to use the word all the time: “Good morning, ladies.” I meant it respectfully. I promise. No more. I have banished it from my lexicon.

Last night I watched the Season Premiere of Survivor 41. It is the pinnacle of reality TV. Go watch the first 40 seasons, the recent Premiere, and then try to disagree. The host, Jeff Probst (@JeffProbst), has for 40 seasons, welcomed tribes to challenges by saying “Come on in, guys.”

Jeff Probst – host of Survivor

How dare he presume gender?

He asked the assembled human beings as to their thoughts. A self-identified queer woman said, essentially, “It’s fine. It’s tradition. Don’t worry about it.”

No one disagreed. Okay, game on. Until two days later.

A self-identified gay man took offense. Delayed outcry, as it were. He found it offensive. 

Probst agreed and banished the word from the show. 

Wait. 

By my count, that was one vote for keeping it a viable word, and one vote against. Sounds like a tie. No need for a recount, the host agreed, and “guys” was gone.

A few words on English as spoken in America are in order.

“You” is the official word for second person – both singular and plural, formal and informal. One human being addressed is “you.” Same for 50,000.

Americans found that bockety. We made up new versions by region.

Texas and lots of the southern US went for “you” and “you all” for the singular and plural, respectively. “All y’all” is also acceptable for second person plural.

In some areas, it’s “you” and “youse.” Elsewhere it’s “you” and “you uns.”

Brace yourselves.

In some areas, it’s “you” and “you guys.” (“Youse guys” is also found.) This isn’t in the South. It’s in the North. 

Seattle, home of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, which declared independence from the world in 2020 (later the Capitol Hill Organized Protest) uses “you guys.” So do parts of New York City and the Northeast.

With a couple of sentences on national TV, Survivor declared war on the 90% of the US that thinks “guys” is okay. Incidentally, he also slammed, by proxy, the XX individual who thought it was okay. 

If words no longer fit, they fade away, become less groovy. The cool people stop using them and the rest of us follow suit. We don’t have to be told. Human beings pick up on that stuff quickly.

This is different. This is a declaration that only the bad human beings will use the g-word again. Guy Fieri (@guyfieri) and Guy Fawkes (@guyfawkes – get real, this Guy is long dead and has no social media accounts), your name’s days are numbered. Guy Fieri can at least pick a new name. I suggest “Safe Fieri.” That should buy you a decade. Guy Fawkes, kiss your statues goodbye.

“Safe” Fieri

I’m halfway through the second book. I use “guys.” I use “ladies.” Change them? Keep them? What do you think?

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