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PrimeTime: You guys with the seedcaps

Some of you may just read The Bemidji Pioneer and never go online, but others already know that the paper's Web site,, features lots of interesting stuff, including several blogs. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on "Our Voices." One blog there is Molly Miron's "Pinesol Postings," about doings at her home between Pinewood and Solway, visits to family and at least one trip overseas. Another is Bethany Wesley's and Laurie Swenson's "Trail Mix," about their frequent walks along Bemidji's streets. Good writers all.

Below "Our Voices" is "Area Voices," blogs by folks not employed by the Pioneer. Among them is "Sunshine," by Marilyn Helzer. Her March 27 post, "Hey, Guys," is about servers, checkout clerks, and such using "you guys" to address any group of two or more people. Marilyn tolerates it, but doesn't really like it. For the details, read the blog.

My mother's take on "you guys" would have been that it was "common." Not that our family were aristocrats, but that it was disrespectful "street" talk. I suspect most people who object to it consider it a recent phenomenon. We actually first ran into it in Michigan in 1957, the year before we moved to Bemidji. After dinner at the home of a professor and his wife, their teenage daughter addressed them as "you guys" when she asked to be excused to do homework. Mary Lou was a well-behaved girl who meant no disrespect, and they seemed unfazed.

We were surprised, and it seemed unusual enough to stick in our memories. I don't think it became common usage among tradespeople in the Bemidji area until the '90s or so. It is now so common that I find myself using it, regardless of the ages and genders of the people I'm addressing.

But here is part of the problem, a part dealt with differently in different languages and in different regions. "You" can be singular or plural. If we want to clearly be addressing more than one person, we either indicate so by an inclusive gesture of some sort, or by modifying the "you." When the Arkansas checkout girl I wrote about in February '02 asked, "Y'all from around hee-ah?" she was talking to both of us. "You all" is plural. The New York "youse" is also plural. ("Youse guys" is, thus, redundant.)

English has no familiar form of "you." In France, one addresses one friend or one child as "tu," but a business associate or boss as "vous." But "tu" cannot be plural, whereas "vous" can. Some Quakers use "thee" as the familiar form to address one another. I don't know how they handle singular/plural ambiguity, nor do I know if "street" French has any way of handling "vous" to specify more than one.

Like many blogs, "Sunshine" accepts comments. Patt Rall, who does the Wednesday "Pioneer Previews" arts column, sent one in. Patt seconded Marilyn's annoyance with "you guys," but added another pet peeve. She and Ernie Rall, at "a fine eatery in town," sat near a man who "kept his baseball hat on the entire time ... Never mind the guy - why didn't his wife say something?"

Reminds me of two relatively recent New Yorker cartoons. In one, a potential customer in a suit stares in disbelief as a diner's hostess points to a sign, "Gentlemen without seedcaps will not be seated." In the second, a man, woman and teenaged boy are seated in a fine restaurant. Both father and son have seedcaps on, but the son's is on backwards. Dad says, "This is a nice place! Turn your cap around." Presumably Mom, like the wife the "fine eatery," saw nothing wrong in it.

I'm not overly pleased with men wearing caps in sit-down restaurants, and regard the backwards cap as a juvenile fashion statement, akin to pants worn perilously low at the hips. But I cannot be too critical. I am strongly disinclined to dress up, have not worn a tie willingly for decades, and won't patronize a restaurant that requires "proper attire." There are lots of other good places to eat.

On the other hand, I see many guys in proper attire who seldom think to hold a car door open for their significant others, or help them with their chair at "fine eateries" or even Ma-and-Pa cafés. On still another hand, some women would disdain such treatment as male chauvinism. My mother wouldn't have, and would be proud when I remember manners. Maybe she still is.

Evan Hazard, a retired Bemidji State University biology professor, also writes "Northland Stargazing" the fourth Friday of each month.