Words matter. Words are powerful.
Language i is a system that consists of the development, acquisition, maintenance and use of complex systems of communication, particularly the human ability to do so; and a language is any specific example of such a system.
Language is one of the most powerful tools we have as humans to communicate together and to understand each other.
The words we choose define what kind of relationships we want to build and what environment we want to have.
One of the keys to an inclusive tech sector, where everyone feels welcome and has a sense of belonging, is inclusive language.
The quest to be inclusive require us to use new vocabulary words from time to time. It also needs us to stop using some words and expressions as we learn from each other.
I recently expressed annoyance at the use of the word “guys” to address a group of people who do not all identify as males. I specifically expressed displeasure at including ME in such groups.
If you are using “Guys” on emails, social media or slack, you are free to do so.
BUT, do not expect me to answer your question, help you with your request or even reply at all. You’re talking to the “guys” and I’m not a guy 💅💄
— BiBi (@Rabeb_Othmani) February 18, 2019
That tweet sparked an exciting conversation and different perspectives.
There was the expected argument of “guys” being gender neutral.
I am as feminist as anyone, but I’m also a linguist, and in this case I would absolutely argue that these days ‘guys’ is entirely synonymous with a group of people (regardless of gender).
— Danny Hibbs-Woodings (@hellohibbs) February 18, 2019
The ”universal male” (i.e., using “guys” to mean “people”) assumes that the normal, default human being is male. Numerous studies show that these words cause people to think about males.
This study entitled The semantics of grammatical gender: A cross-cultural study shows that grammatical gender does affect meaning.
So the argument that “guys” is gender neutral isn’t really valid.
More importantly, I’m apparently not the only one who minds the use of the word “guys”. Can’t we just use a more inclusive alternative instead of arguing?
There is an abundance of words to call a group of people from “people” (doh), Y’all, folks to colleagues and team.
I stand by my opinion that “guys” is not inclusive. That being said, people don’t use it with bad intentions or malice. It’s what they are used to.
I, myself, am guilty of using the word in the past, but I’m trying my best to do better and be better.
“Guys” is one of many words and phrases we better avoid as our understanding and empathy increases.
Words like “gals” and “ladies” may feel patronising sometimes. We also need to be careful with pronouns. Using the right pronoun reflects respect, acceptance and support.
In case of doubt, just ask. Try to use a language that reflects peoples choices.
Change takes effort. It’s our collective responsibility to listen to each other, to learn from each other and to improve towards a more inclusive language and a more inclusive Tech.
No one is perfect but we need to actively make effort towards positive change.