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May 22, 2014



Hi, Lynn!

I used to use 'folks' instead of 'guys'. Does it still correct?

- Alex

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

"Folks" is fine. It applies to everyone.

Thanks for the question, Alex.



There is precedent in many other languages for using a masculine form to refer to a mixed-sex group (e.g., Spanish, Italian).

However I would tend to agree that in language where gender forms aren't an issue there's no real excuse for using 'guys'.


I think that this veers pretty closely to unnecessary political correctness. We all (women AND men) could be a little less sensitive. Or, sometimes, a lot less sensitive.

Having said that, for the reasons you note above, I typically use "folks" or "y'all" (though as a Yankee, perhaps that Southern-ist when speaking. I frequently say "guys" as well. In written communication, I don't think that "you guys" would be appropriate very often at all.


I think you also have to be careful about "folks" in some situations. It seems too informal for some usages. Both President Bush and President Obama have been criticized for using the word when a more formal "people" would have been more appropriate in context, for example, when discussing war.


Just the other day I overheard a manager at my company discussing a visit from the corporate office, and he said "when the big boys come in". As a woman in a very male-dominated work environment, this doesn't sit well with me. Honestly, I believe there is still a lot of work to be done to make women feel as comfortable as men in the business world, especially in male-dominated fields like technology and engineering.


In my workplace, the word "heathen" was used disparagingly and in its religious context just yesterday. When I pointed out that that could be threatening or offensive to anyone not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim, the speaker deflected, saying, "it was only a joke!" (As if that excuse would work for the "n" word!)

It is long, slow work to purge ourselves of such primitive evil.


> I think you also have to be careful about "folks" in some situations. It seems too informal for some usages.

I do not think it is more informal then 'guys' ;)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Thank you, everyone, for commenting on these ideas. (I won't say "Thanks, you guys"!)

I agree with you, Laura and Alex, that "folks" is not suitable for formal communication despite its being gender neutral. "Folks" is folksy. I never use it because it's not part of my experience, having lived in big cities (New York, Boston, Seattle) all my adult life, where I did not hear it.

Jason, thanks for your point about other languages. I have heard that Spanish-speaking people now use both terms--for example, "amigos y amigas"--rather than just the masculine form. I do not have expertise in this area though. It's just something I have heard.

Bill, thanks for weighing in. At work, it's often wise to be politically correct because we deal with many people who have sensibilities that are different ours. I am glad you would not use "you guys" in writing.

"Anonymous," I appreciate your example of the "big boys" coming in. It's a great example of language that communicates an underlying assumption.

Jim, thanks for extending the discussion to include language focused on religious beliefs. "Heathen" is out of line in any business setting.


Lisa Marie Mutchler

Lynn, I appreciate your response to Bill's point about political correctness. To be honest, I don't really understand why so many people have a problem with the idea; to me, it is simply about working to be inclusive and not offend others. This seems like a good pursuit!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Lisa Marie. I agree with you. I believe that people sometimes resist changes in language because the changes force us to give up the happy habit of throwing words around freely. But we gain something more profound if we watch our language: the ability to connect with others in ways that make us both feel accepted and respected.


Lisa Marie Mutchler

Love your reply, Lynn! I may quote you on that:-)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Lisa. The answer is yes!



Women are female and men are male. A "guy" is gender based on being male. In the old days it was "guys" and "gals", which is gender based. Women are not "guys". Females are lowering themselves to the stature of all men by allowing everyone to refer to them as a "guy". Women are special with all their unique qualities, God made you that way. I can't get over mothers calling their children "guys", when there are boys and girls involved, or referring to senior women in restaurants as "can I get you guys something?". Women should stand up and not accept being referred to as a "man" any longer. For the restaurant washrooms should be post on the doors, "Guys" and "Guys"?? For all women's sake, women should not be referred to as "guys" in either spoken or written format!!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Mike, thanks for your impassioned comment!


NK Grayson

Lynn - Thanks so much for this information. My suggestion is to be respectful, take the time and know the group or persons your are addressing.
If two people - how are you both doing?
If a group - everyone - it’s very simple.
I quite dislike be lumped in to the “Guy” slang - How are you guys? What do you Guys think? This is not addressing people to actually receive a reply and hear a reply.
It’s just something to say: quickly and without regard or respect verbally or in written words. I find the blogging community is using Guy slang to address their readership of mostly women, this action is strange to me as it does not foster the engagement that social media can offer.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello NK,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I like your simple solutions for addressing people.


Kelly Jones

In my experience as a women a male dominated field the use of the term 'guys' irritates and for me perpetuates the concept that women are the exception rather than the rule in our space. If I were to send a group email to a mixed gender group addressed to 'Hey Gals' it would be considered a mistake and solicit comment from the men. I feel that women are expected to quietly tolerate situations that men just wouldn't. It speaks to the heart of the equality issue, small things do matter. It is the subtleties that occur everyday that confirm women are far from being treated as equals in the corporate environment.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Kelly, thanks for your helpful comment. I agree that "Hey Gals" would not survive in the workplace.


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