Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt
I love collective nouns. A collective noun is a name for the group of similar things. Well-known examples include a pride of lions, a colony of ants, a herd of cows and a murder of crows. Some of my favorite, lesser-known collective nouns are a tower of giraffes, a business of ferrets, a coalition of cheetahs and a prickle of porcupines.
What is the proper term for a group of people? You could accept a number of collective nouns, depending on context: tribe, nation, family or crowd. But, when it comes to everyday English, how do we refer to our group of friends?
We call them “guys.”
This term, in vernacular usage, applies to a group of male humans, a group of men and women, or a group made up of entirely by women. I like this usage not because it’s patriarchal, but for the exact opposite reason: calling a group of females “guys” just means that’s their posse. Their tribe. Their people.
I argue that “guys” has come to colloquially mean “close friends.” The term can be applied to both men and women. Its popular usage, at this point, is gender-neutral.
Originally, the term “guy” comes from Guy Fawkes, a 17th-century rabble-rouser who was involved in the failed Gunpowder Plot in England, in which a group of guys attempted to blow up the members of both Houses of Parliament, King James I, most of the royal family and leading officers of state in order to establish a powerful English Catholic regime. I’ll spare you the rest of the details and cut to the chase: Their plan didn’t work. Fawkes got caught.
After Guy Fawkes’ notorious legend spread, the term “guys” came to be known as something similar to a “gang” or a group of “rebels” – bad guys up to no good. As the term progressed, its meaning shifted to something more positive, like “people on your team” or “friends you can count on.”
What do you say to your friends if you’re trying to get their attention? I would guess most of you would say, “Hey, guys!”
This is in no way the capital “G” grammar rule for a collective group of humans. It’s my takeaway based on listening to how people, men and women alike, actually talk in 2018 America. So, I’m totally fine if you guys disagree with the Grammar Guy on this one.
Curtis Honeycutt is a nationally award-winning and syndicated humor writer. Connect with him on Twitter (@curtishoneycutt) or at curtishoneycutt.com.