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Guy has pretty much the same meaning as the German counterpart Kerl.

There is the progression of age in the sequence child, teenager, adolescent, (young) fellow, guy, old man/guy (?), senior.

But Germans do not call a very old person a guy. You can call an anonymous group of people independently of their age and sex guys. However, calling someone a Kerl often implies he is male with a minimum and maximum age I am not sure about (18-50). Does this match the English meaning and usage of guy?

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I think (young) fellow may be quite a bit older than you think, young fellow-me-lad! :) –  FumbleFingers Aug 17 '11 at 1:24
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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The use of "guy" for chap/man/person was originally popularised by young people, particularly in its "gender-neutral" guise. Since they'd mostly be speaking of other young people, it did originally have those connotations, but not any longer.

My 90-year-old father is quite capable of using the word to refer to people of any age, and I've no doubt many would call him just a "guy", without needing to prefix this with the word "old".

I see no reason to suppose the evolution of English usage for this word should have any connection with a German word which might once have been a direct counterpart.

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in German you wouldnt call an 80 year old man a guy. English seems to to make the same gradations for younger ages, but for very old people you only use old guy? No senior, old gentleman/lady? –  Hauser Aug 16 '11 at 21:31
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As to 'no connection with German', I don't think that matters. I think if there is a correspondence it would show that there is something about the social situation that results in a similar semantics of the two different sound sequences in the two different languages. –  Mitch Aug 16 '11 at 21:34
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I agree. I think it's just that you would not use informal words to indicate older people as often as younger people. I think that is the same in English (guy, bloke, chap, fellow) as in Dutch (kerel, vent). They may be used for older people, especially by an older guy indicating another guy his own age, but not as often. Aren't German Kerl and Dutch kerel much the same? There are certain words that are even more restricted to a younger age, like English dude and Dutch gast (very informal "guy")—but that's only because they are even more informal, like street slang. –  Cerberus Aug 16 '11 at 22:58
    
All these slang terms have their own nuances and lifecycles. Fellow and chap are so dated now I wouldn't use them except whimsically, but my father being older still does occasionally. My 25-year-old son rarely if ever uses "bloke", though I do quite often. But we all use "guy" simply because it's the dominant word these days. Most of the time you just echo the standard vernacular unless either it makes you feel odd, or others give you odd looks. –  FumbleFingers Aug 17 '11 at 0:47
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My intuition is that the usage in English is similar to that of German. However, I would have no problem with "old guy" referring to an old man, and "guy" referring to a man of unknown, potentially old, age.

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"Old guy" seems perfectly normal to me too: "There I was driving down the freeway when this old guy cut me off and slowed down to 40!" –  Monica Cellio Aug 16 '11 at 20:37
    
@Monica: but 'guy' by itself would seem a little weird, right? (it's weird to me). –  Mitch Aug 16 '11 at 21:31
    
I would also agree that using "guy" to refer to and elderly man would, in most cases, be unusual. In english, we do tend to qualify our nouns and pronouns with age when appropriate, so throwing in "old" before "guy" would seem most proper when referring to an elderly man. I think use of the term guy is really slang anyway, though, so dropping the adjective probably doesn't make it any more lax than it already is...grammatically speaking. ;) –  jrista Aug 16 '11 at 22:41
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@Mitch, "guy" is generic (and informal) and could include old (or young) guys. "This guy cut me off" just means somebody did; if I want to be more specific I can add an adjective like "old", "young", "bald", or whatever would be relevant. I wouldn't use "guy" in this way in formal writing, though, just casual contexts. –  Monica Cellio Aug 19 '11 at 15:53
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It's an interesting question for sure. Undoubtedly the use of the word "guy" as part of a greeting to a group of people, regardless of their sex, has become widely accepted over the past twenty years or so.

To address the second part of your question regarding age-specific connotations, "guy" does not involve age as part of it's definition or use.

Generally speaking, the word "boy" would be used when referring to a male under the age of 12, the term "young man" would be used when referring to a male between the ages of 13-17, and simply "man" for a male over the age of 18.

While using the adjective "young" to describe a male for the bulk of his teenage years is commonplace, it is certainly not a rule. The same goes for "old" as well.

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As the years continue to pass, "young man" seems to include many more people than it used to. –  oosterwal Aug 17 '11 at 0:13
    
I agree. Though my younger sister insists on calling me "old man"! :) –  RGW1976 Aug 17 '11 at 0:18
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Guy is an informal word used when referring to a man; guys is used when referring to people of wither sex.

He is a nice guy.
You guys want some coffee?

I don't think there is a maximum age after which guy is not used anymore when referring to that person.

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