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!