“Would you guys like somethin’ to drink?” I could not help smiling at the lady and two men sitting across the table from me in this California restaurant injected into the middle of North Carolina. We had just been deploring the use of this unisex slang expression to mean “ladies and gentlemen” and debating the possibility of asking waitresses to avoid it. The waitress cocked her head and asked if something was wrong. After a few moments of embarrassed hesitation, I told her: “This is a lady silting next to me, not a guy, and the rest of us are men or even gentlemen, not guys or kids or fellows.”
“Then what am I supposed to say?”
When one Southern literary gent at the table suggested “You all,” she protested, “But then I’d sound like a cracker.” We assured her that the best people said “Y’all” and added that if she wanted to talk Yankee, she should talk old Philadelphia and not suburban Des Moines.
Guy, whether it is derived from the effigies of Guy Fawkes burnt on the fifth of November or, as Mencken believed, from the guy-rope of a circus tent, has nothing to recommend itself as a term of address. Chesterton objected to being called a “regular guy” when he visited America—perhaps he thought he was being accused of being a Catholic terrorist. The real point to using guys is that it is a weapon in the war to eliminate distinctions and to level sexes, ranks, and ages into one neutral category that probably includes domestic animals. Like “citizen” or “comrade,” guys is a political term that does nothing to elevate the waitress but only denies the social reality constructed by men and women, young and old. If pressed, the sweet young thing from Concord might have said she was doing this 50-something old man a favor by treating him as “one of the guys,” but some of us old bucks are proud to have got to where we are and can barely tolerate the society of the under-35 guys, clucks, dudes, and hey-mans whose philosophy of life is “I deserve a break today.” Did somebody say “stupid”?