Guys and Gals

Why is it that gal is the feminine equivalent of guy?

And what’s the story with guy, for that matter?

I’d always assumed that the word guy comes from the name, now not so common in English. Coming from the French Guillaume (William), I guess that it was once such a common first name that, like Dick and Jack before it, it became synonymous with the average man.

That’s not quite the case. The use of guy in this way comes directly from Guy Fawkes, executed for being part of the English Gunpowder Plot to blow up parliament. Since then, English children have burned an effigy of him, known simply as a guy, on Bonfire Night. These effigies were traditionally made to look grotesque, so guy came to be used to mean grotesque-lookig fellow, to just fellow over time. (And Guy is derived from Norman-French translations of the Italian Guido: Guy Fawkes in fact sometimes signed his name as Guido Fawkes).

Gal is even simpler. It simply means girl, and is derived from the old English word… girl! Yep, it’s just a slang pronunciation of the word girl. When you think about it, it’s not so different from how girl is correctly pronounced by someone with a non-rhotic accent, like an English person. It originally came about in England in the 18th century as a deliberately exaggerated pronunciation of girl. Over time, it became a distinct word in itself.

It’s perhaps now more common in American English because American accents are mostly rhotic. This means that the R in the word girl is pronounced, and it’s therefore probably less obvious that gal and girl were once the same word.

As for why gal is the feminine equivalent of guy? Well that one’s easy. The meaning is basically the same, just with the genders reversed, and they sound good together because of the alliteration of the two G‘s!

5 thoughts on “Guys and Gals

  1. It’s funny you decided to do this post because I was just having a discussion about the word “guys” as a gender non-specific. As in, a mixed gender group of people walks in and someone says “hey guys!” and I was told that this is apparently a “Canadian thing”. Lol! I can’t attest to this but, any thoughts on that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s actually become quite common in Ireland and the UK in recent years. I’m still not sure how it came about, as it obviously doesn’t work with “guy” singular, which in fact often epitomizes masculinity, as in “It’s a guy thing!”

      Liked by 1 person

      • There are people here who get very offended by it (that’s how the conversation started!) one of my male employees made the mistake of greeting a group of female customers with “hey, guys!” and was then berated for the next 5 minutes about how they were, in fact, not “guys”. I thought this was humorous when I heard about this as, had I not been in the backroom at the time I probably would have done the EXACT same thing but, being female, probably would have received a very different response! Silly how things go!

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s interesting in that it seems to be becoming more common generally, but people react to it very differently. There are some who hate it and think it sounds unnatural, and others who don’t even notice that it’s strictly a male term!

          Liked by 1 person

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