Pronouns - short words or phrases that take the place of nouns - are at the heart of our linguistic memory
More often than not, people start off a sentence when addressing a group of two or more people with the phrase "you guys" or just the word "guys". But how has this routine come to being?
Pronouns - short words or phrases that take the place of nouns - are at the heart of our linguistic memory.
If we travel back 1500 years ago, the second-person plural "you" was trying to do double duty when indicating an audience of two or more, and hence he word was stigmatized.
This automatically meant a person had less respect for the other if they referred the other as "you". And for the next two centuries, people had to make do with this ambiguity, as they looked for a good way to signify a plural "you."
They tried, for example, putting a plural "s" on "you," making it "yous" or "youse" - both odd looking. Others tried adding a word after "you" to indicate plural - "you people", "you folks", and "you ones", or more colloquially "you-uns" abbreviated "yinz." Some added a word specifying the audience, like "you ladies."
None of these options had much widespread success, except for the special case of "you all", also "y'all".
But soon enough the name of Guy Fawkes was on everyone's lips – the arch-villain who nearly succeeded in blowing the House of Lords in London to bits during the annual opening of Parliament of King James' Protestant government on November 5, 1605.
As he was interrogated, tortured, tried, convicted and executed in January 1606, the legislators realised that Guy would have likely been killed if his act of retaliation against the Protestant government had succeeded.
This led to the pivotal moment in the history of "guy": Parliament approved a "Fifth of November Act", that is an act for public thanksgiving to Almighty God every year on the fifth day of November.
The new holiday would feature special religious services during the day and bonfires at night, lighting fires to mock the man who failed.
In the fires they burned effigies of the Pope, Guy Fawkes and other archenemies of the moment. They referred to the effigies of Fawkes as "guys." And some people referred actual people as "guys" - men of the lowest and most depraved kind.
This was early in the 18th century, more than 200 years ago.
"Guys" began to shift meaning, to become a term for working-class men, then every human male, from baby boys to ancient men. And with a gradual and slow-paced turn of events, speakers and writers began to view "guys", not Guy, positively – using the word as a generic term that did not require differentiating among categories of males.
By the middle of 20th century, the word was being used by woman. They increasingly used "you guys" when addressing a group of people, regardless of gender. More and more speakers addressed groups as "guys," till that was that: the people's choice.
In recent years, many have pushed back the idea that it is an egalitarian term, embracing us all. And it is of course possible that language could once again change. But regardless of our reasons, until an alternative gets enough votes to replace it, "guys" will retain the top spot in the second person plural domain of the English language.