I read an interesting article this week about the growing problem of using the term “guys” when referring to a group that isn’t strictly male (or that identifies as such).
In brief, while there are women (and those who identify as same, or at least as not categorically male) who don’t mind being referred to that way, with more diversified gender identities come more people who don’t want to be included in that group term.
But, as the article says, “English lacks a standard gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun, like the Spanish ustedes or the German ihr.”
I suppose that encouraging the idea of bringing back a loud, “HAIL AND WELL MET!” would be met with lukewarm approval at best.
Rather than continuing the search for an acceptable existing English word–and there are some options, as the article explains, but none are quite suited to the need for one reason or another–I say it’s high time we invent one.
That may seem a bit odd, but English has been modified and cobbled together from other languages for centuries to become what we know it as today. And to get pedantic about it, all language is a human invention. Not only is there no precedent to suggest we shouldn’t make another word for this new purpose, every precedent says we could and do often. Words are invented and change meaning all the time. Here’s a list from the OED from this year alone.
So I say let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it.
Okay, English takes a lot from Latin.
“Everyone” and “all” in Latin translate to “Omnis”. But I can’t see anyone getting up in front of a mixed group of people and saying, “Hello, omnis.” That sounds like it’s straight out of a sci-fi story.
Added to that, the same article mentions in passing that one appealing aspect of “guys” is that it’s one syllable, so omnis won’t cut it on that score, either. So what if we shorten it to just ‘nis (“knees”)?
It sounds a little odd, I grant, but any new word can sound weird to start with until it becomes common vernacular.
Or even after.
If it please the court, I’d like to submit the word “blog” as Exhibit A.
So “nis” a possibility.
What about Greek? Plenty of English words have Greek roots.
Greek for “everyone” is “oloi”, which sounds almost like “oily”, so I’m not sure that would fly.
“All” is “óla” in Greek, but that sounds like the Spanish “hola” for hello, so pass there.
Maybe not Greek, then.
The German “ihr” (which sounds like “ear”) is an inclusive second-person plural. We could just liberate it wholesale or, because it sounds so much like ear and may confuse people (as with nis, above), perhaps we should modify it a bit.
The English “you” refers to a single or group second-person, so what if we combine the two? “yihr”
“Hey, yihr, come check out this hilarious cat video.”
It’s… not great.
Hang on, though.
What if we cut it in half and just use “yi”?
The fact that it sounds like the middle English “ye” isn’t a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned. But then, I’ve been known to throw the odd “ye” around at times. And have almost certainly texted it. So I’m perhaps more comfortable with it than some.
There’d be no danger of confusion between whether yi or ye was meant, though, be it spoken or particularly written. No company president is going to get up at the annual shareholders’ meeting and say, “Welcome, ye.” It would obviously be, “Welcome, yi.”
That it’s a homophone just adds a bit of charm, I’d say.
So there it is,
Nis and yi: My first pitches for a new English all-inclusive second-person plural.
Who do I contact about this?
Do I just call the local news desks, or…?
Maybe if I get in touch with some big name singers and groups, they can start using it in their songs to help it catch on. Hey, there are tons of people who now consider Toronto “The Six” thanks to Drake’s handiwork. And that doesn’t even make any sense. I mean, it’s named after 416, Toronto’s original area code, but Toronto has had three area codes for about a decade, well before that song came out, so what’s he even talking about?
Of course that risks making me sound a bit crotchety.
Middle-Aged Man Vexed By Modern Music
But I digress…
Point being, nis and yi (*ahem* unlike The Six) are both decent ideas. Either would bring all people together and make everyone feel included and considered and welcomed.
But we need to get the word out to kids these days, and music is one of the best/fastest way to do that.
What’s Dave Grohl’s address?
Where does The Weeknd buy groceries?
Someone get me Beyoncé on the phone!