Don’t Pet the Peeves

My water was orange this morning. Not a nice Sunkist orange, but a rusty brown-orange. We had a big thunderstorm last night, and the river is very high, but I’m not sure whether those things are responsible.

If this happened all the time, I would put it at the top of my Pet Peeves List, but it rarely happens, so I haven’t exercised that peeve enough to get ratcheted up all the way to ‘annoyed.’

I have pet peeves. I regularly feed them and take them out for walks, but I don’t let them up on the furniture. Most of them are linguistic peeves, like when people say, “My eyes literally popped out of my head!”

After the orange water I ran into a couple of them.

It seemed like a good morning to go out for breakfast, so we did. My first question to our server was, “Is your water orange?” Because it’s difficult to tell when coffee has been made with orange water.

She gave me a funny look. “Is your guys’s water orange?” she asked, coffee pot poised to pour.

I replied in the affirmative, making a mental note to check whether ‘guys’s’ is really a word. It raises my hackles.

Those restaurant guys’s water was not orange, so we allowed her to fill our cups.  

First of all, why do servers always address customers as ‘guys’? Guys used to always be male, but now apparently females can be guys too, at least in the plural. Regardless of my gender, I don’t like being addressed as a ‘guy.’

Etymology Tangent: Originally just a name, the word ‘guy’ used to be a pejorative. It refers to the straw effigies people used to burn after Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament.

‘Guy’ is a middle-aged Pet Peeve, I admit. People under forty don’t mind being called ‘guys’ from what I can tell. It’s a sort of friendly appellation, implying social equality: ‘guys’ are people you hang with.

We don’t have any designated social classes in this country, so I suppose we are in fact all ‘guys.’ But I still don’t like it. I especially don’t like it when I’m paying more than five dollars to be fed. Someone needs to tell servers to stop calling customers ‘guys.’

Second peeve: she could have said, “Is your water orange?”

It seems that ‘you guys’ is becoming the northern equivalent of ‘y’all’ — a second person plural pronoun. (In Long Islandese it’s been ‘youse guys’ for as long as I can remember.) But for most of us, using ‘you’ as both singular and plural hasn’t been a problem for several hundred years.

And if it is a problem, we still have a perfectly good singular pronoun hanging around: thou. It’s a bit dusty from lack of use, but if the Quakers can still use it, I think it could be revived. “Is thy water orange? Wouldst thou like some coffee?” Servers using ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ might get bigger tips.

‘You guys’ is in language limbo: it’s in Urban Dictionary and Wiktionary, but not in any of the standard references. It’s very commonly used, at least in American English, but English teachers still use their red pens on it, which shows that it is a spoken idiom, not formal enough for written English.

But even written English is becoming less formal as we rely more on email and texting to communicate. In time, formal English will be used only in legal documents.

That’s linguistic evolution. I’m just a dinosaur.

And my water is still orange. Now I’m starting to get peeved.

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