Post to the Host

Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

Send GK Your Question »

Sweetness Trumps Correctness

December 8, 2008 | 16 Comments

Post to the Host:
A young waitress last week asked my wife and me, "What can I get you guys?" She used the reference fourteen times during the course of the meal and, being an English major, I found it inappropriate. Do you? I'm wondering if getting your P.O.E.M. shirt to wear in public might forewarn people to be more aware of their people skills. What is your opinion?

Lee N.
Niagara Falls, New York


The Professional Organization of English Majors shirt (short- or long-sleeves) is useful for all sorts of things but it isn't likely to change your waitress's word usage. Had she said it to me and my wife, I think we'd have been amused. This is how she'd talk to her friends — "You guys want to hang out?" — and her addressing us older people in that familiar way doesn't offend me at all. Au contraire, mon confrere. It's like the old bartender who used to call me "pal" though he didn't know my name. It was sweet of him, and sweetness trumps correctness. So says me, sweetheart.


Dear Lee (Sweetness Trumps Correctness)

I hate to disagree with Garrison, but "You Guys" bothers me, too. Almost every restaurant we have gone to recently called us "guys", be it my husband and I or the whole family, male and female. I am just not a "guy" and what ever happened to calling people Ladies and Gentleman, or just don't call us anything. "What can I get for you? " is quite appropriate and does not make me feel uncomfortable by a false and feigned familiarity.

We guys in the South really, really, don't like being called "you guys." It comes over as pushy and rude. If you can't say "y'all" or "you all," just say "you." I wouldn't go to another country and address the people with an idiom they find offensive, and I don't see why we all down here can't object to being spoken to that way.

Come to Pennsylvania. The waitress will cheerfully ask if she can "get you a drink awhile?" My advice is to cheerfully reply, "Yes" and tell her what you would like.

Really. There's no need to hunt for opportunities to take offense where none is intended. There are plenty of people out there who have every intention of offending.

When I was in elementary school (in the 60's), our teachers taught us that, when a group of people is made up of both sexes, the masculine plural covers both: "Does everyone have his book?"

If you look at other languages whose words have gender, this is also the case. They will use the masculine to cover males and females together. This isn't discrimination; it's linguistics!

Ok, guys?

I am from Montana and it is common for people to say "you guys" instead of "you'all". I always thought it was funny in a regional kind of way as I now live in Abilene, Texas!

Lighten up, you guys.

I grew up in North Dakota where the term "you guys" was the expected informal way to address several people to whom you had not been introduced (especially the younger crowd.)
"You all" was foriegn to me until I visited the south. I thought it sounded funny, but regionalism is not offensive in my opinion.

I prefer "folks." A waitress asking, "What can I get you folks this evening?" is on her way to garnering a nice tip from our table. "Folks" is genteel, all-inclusive, and respectful. Yep, "folks" gets my vote.

As a native New Yorker, "you guys" was the friendly way to address any small, informal group of people of whatever gender or mixed genders, as common as "y'all" in the south. I now live in Alabama, but I wouldn't dream of taking offense at a waitress asking "what can I get y'all"?

The nice thing about "y'all" is it is gender neutral, so you avoid the chance of causing offense by calling a lady a guy.

A 57 year old Norwegian who just spent a year in America, I was touched when a young waitress consistently called me "sweetie". Made me feel weird, but good.

In the part of Ontario where I grew up it was customary for a waitress to ask, "Would yous (yooz) like a menu ?" For all the world it sounded like she had asked "would jooz - - -". If she looked like a waitress who might have a sense of humour we would answer that question with one of our own. "Would gentiles like a menu ?"
"Yous guys" was often heard in my town,(Cooksville, pop. 5,000), instead of "you guys".

First we were told by the PC and feminist crowds that the generic use of "his" or "men" meant ONLY males and was therefore insulting to women (never mind the fact that nobody took it that way in reality). So now we have this silly, cubersome nonsense of having to say "his or hers" and "he/she" so as to "not potentially offend" an idiot. A friend from NC recently complained how the BBC "incorrectly" pronounced the word "Appalachian" ( as in "Mountains") in a recent news story - using the long "a" instead of the short "a" often used by North Carolinians. (hey, here's a news flash; the BBC announcer was English! That IS how they pronounce it!) Some Southern people here complaining now about the generic familiar use of "guys" by people from regions of the country where that IS the generic friendly term. "That sounds rude and aggressive to us!" Really? Have you thought about how dumb and ignorant "ya'll" probably sounds to them? Did the waitress threaten physical violence to you when she asked "what would you guys like?" When and why have people developed this attitude that the most important thing in conversation is that "I" not be offended? The world is uptight enough without actively TRYING to find some silly nothing to take offense with. The most imortant thing is how the speaker MEANT the word, not how I might be able to take it in a negative way. "You GUYS" need to get a grip! :)

"The nice thing about "y'all" is it is gender neutral, so you avoid the chance of causing offense by calling a lady a guy"

Perhaps...but by using "y'all" you run the real risk of causing offense by insinuating that the people you are speaking to are ignorant and stupid. One man's "youse" is another man's "y'all," and it seems pretty obnoxious to claim one is better or more offensive then another simply because that's how YOU "might be able to" interpret it. Try as I have, I just can't find anything in the constitution or the bible that says "I have the right to not be offended!"

Obama's soon to be in office! Embrace our inguistic diversity, you guys!

I agree with the comment about using "You Folks" Vs. "You Guys"...I have been known, when addressed as "guys" to look down at my femininity and say, "Do I really look like a guy"?.... I'm going to get the T-shirt-...that says..."I am NOT a guy"..I have told a few waiters that they will be much more respected using the "Folks" term with the 40s and older crowd. As an add on...saying "Miss" vs "M'am" to we baby boomers...will get you a bigger smile and bigger tip, no doubt....Just my opinion and my preference, for what it's worth..thanks for listening.

Previous Post:
« I've Heard about this -- Cat Juggling!

Next Post:
A Cure for the Hiccups »

Post to the Host Archive

Complete Post to the Host Archive

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy