“Ah come on Lads!”
So declared my 9 year old daughter to the other kids in the local playground this weekend – the bigger one that has the cool sandpit construction setup. “Lads”, she says, “let’s have the water flow a bit first and then see if it’s stuck.”
I smiled when I heard that: there’s my girl.
She’s not addressing the group as “guys” – the word I’ve been hearing all the time in Ireland since we moved back last year – as in, “guys let’s work on this together and then smash it up”. As a handy word guys is fine (and dandy) to use in Canada and the US. But I have to say I don’t like how this G-word seems to have taken over speech in Ireland, at least big chunks of the country. I get annoyed every time I hear a parent/coach/teacher shout “hey guys can you all come over here?” We had our own words before – since when did a cute fella become a cute guy?
Guys is not a strong word: even in North America it’s considered slang and not advised for professional use and has also been experiencing a gender-focussed backlash (see this Salon article) and in my own experience there it was considered a male word (unlike, say, folks, the charming y’all or even the unsubtle peeps).
The word for addressing a group of people in Ireland is lads. It’s not perfect, to be honest, it doesn’t really cover the girls but does anyone say “lads and lassies”? It’s fine, let’s just leave it.
Living abroad for most of her life, this same sandpit-managing daughter of mine had to learn a lot of her everyday English from me. All of her daytime and weekend-socialising hours were spent with other kids in a different language. So at age 4 she would be shouting “dere!” to her Norwegian playmates and by age 7 “ragazzi!” to the Italian classmates. I wouldn’t have told her to say “lads” when she was with other English-speaking kids, most of whom would be American or English anyway (and mostly girls, not boys) but she must have picked it up somehow.
If I had been a hard-core Irish-parent-abroad, I might have insisted on the family using “yous” or “yis” or “ye” when addressing a group. But I have my limits.
Sorry if I’m being a language curmudgeon, I know it’s supposed to grow and adapt. But here’s something we Irish should think about – the use of “guy” actually comes from Guy Fawkes. The very one who gets bonfired every year in the UK in that weird English (and anti-Catholic) tradition. Seriously lads!