Word choice is important, a fact not lost on famed Norse explorer Eric the Red. When he discovered a semi-inhabitable landmass northwest of his native Iceland, he knew he needed a snappy name to attract settlers. How else would you get people to move to a giant, rocky ice slab roughly the size of the midwestern United States?
And so he dubbed it “Greenland” and tapped into the verdant dreams of his people, thereby successfully pulling off the greatest bait-and-switch ever.
And while some word choices can birth a nation, others have the power to elevate (a Subway “sandwich artist”) or deride (literally any racial slur). But many words are more nuanced in how we use them and how they affect both people, or an environment. I’ve written before about seven words you can’t say to client, but there’s one phrase that I constantly hear that just plain bothers me: “you guys.”
Informally, guys is a catchall for a group of people, regardless of sex. But, used singly, it’s a male noun. So if you extrapolate, using “guys” for a mixed gender group paints everyone with a thick enamel of masculinity. Using this in a professional setting is a bad habit that I encourage you to break.
Even when I am only addressing a group of men, I try to not use that phrase, swapping in “everyone” or “everybody” instead. With every use of “you guys,” neural pathways are built that groups of people are called “guys.” Plus, it can imbue a work environment with an undercurrent of manliness that excludes anyone who isn’t. Professional environments can really suffer from the common use of such an excluding phrase, even if the sentiment behind it is as innocent as an ‘80s catchphrase.
The best way to build a team is to be as inclusive as possible, and the language we use can quickly alienate someone who doesn’t fit. This is true for idioms and conversation topics as much as for collective terms. If you’ve ever been in a work situation that you cannot leave and the conversation topic turns to something don’t know or care about—sports, comics, movies, TV, kids, cats—you tune out almost immediately. Don’t do this to your coworkers; bring everyone in as much as you can.
It takes some mental rewiring to drop the phrase, but it’s well worth it. What do you have against the word “everybody” anyhow?
P.S. Inclusive language doesn’t just apply to “guys”