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Is there a predominant pattern of usage of the terms girls and guys based on age of the described individuals? Are the patterns the same in the US and UK?

At about what age is it considered inappropriate to refer to young women as girls? Is there a point at which such terms are definitely offensive.

With young men is the issue the same, or can males of all age can fall under the category of guys?

Finally, is guys okay to be used in reference to women when not contrasting them with males, or is it considered inappropriate?

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    I've seen women in their sixties and seventies referred to as "the girls" with no offense taken. – Jim Jun 11 '14 at 23:14
  • This feels like another "What is a female or gender neutral form of gentleman that relays the same tone of respect?" english.stackexchange.com/questions/175431/… question with respect to the fact that the age of the responder taints their response. The term is a definite insult in the workplace, sounds patronizing elsewhere, and I'd only let you get away with it if you are 90 and above. BTW, 'girls' is slang for breasts – Third News Jun 11 '14 at 23:42
  • @Jim - There was the hit show, Golden Girls. – RyeɃreḁd Jun 12 '14 at 0:36
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    This is not a question about the English language, but about cultural norms. I can appreciate your desire not to offend, but there is not one single "English culture", and context is everything, therefore no correct answer. – anongoodnurse Jun 12 '14 at 0:46
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    @medica but it is a social question exhibited in language. The meaning and context of those words is on topic. – Mitch Jun 12 '14 at 1:55
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It depends entirely on what you are writing and who you are writing for.

There are no hard and fast conventions here in Australia, which is more or less the same as the UK when it comes to English usage.

To demonstrate the importance of the writing type and the audience, let's consider you were writing an article in a newsletter for an aged-care home, and were part of the community. If the article was an informal account of an organised bus tour where the female residents went out to lunch and then saw a movie, you could refer to the women as girls with impunity, as that's probably how they refer to each other.

On the other hand, it'd be weird to do so if you were an outsider writing about the female residents preparing a community dinner.

I think the best rule of thumb is to consider which terms a representative sample of your readers would use in that context. And then use those terms.

Don't forget, there are also 'young women' and 'young men' 'older women' and 'older men' 'gentlemen' and 'ladies'. And probably a bunch more.

I think 'guys' as a mixed gender collective term should be avoided unless it's used to address a mixed gender group of people in an informal manner, for example at the start of an email or speech.

'Hi guys'

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The most common complements for the terms you mention are

  • male/female
  • boys/girls
  • guys/gals

Usage is far from parallel. While arguably boys and girls should be reserved for underage (whatever that means) people of the respective genders, adults, especially younger adults (probably under 35) often refer to their own gender by the term of children of that sex.

However, refering to an adult using childish terms may be considered demeaning. It is generally more acceptable for men to refer to themselves and their agemates as boys and vice versa. When the child referents are used by the opposite sex, it is often seem as sarcastic or even insulting. Many adults will assiduously avoid referring to the oposite sex as a boy or a girl.

This is even more of an issue when dealing with groups that may have been forced into lower social status based on race or socioeconomic status. Do not refer to an African-American male as boy. This is highly insulting. To a lesser degree, an adult male referring to any other adult male, except for close friends as boy would be considered demeaning. The same rules generally apply to women (although possibly to a slightly lesser degree).

In some circles, even older women may refer to each other as girls (perhaps with a slight degree of irony), but such reference by a man may well invoce umbrage.

Finally, the use of the terms boys or girls for individuals over 70 may occur, but in an ironic fashion. Whether that is welcome depends on both the speaker and the audience.

Guy and gal are informal terms, much more polular in a period that ended in the early to mid 2oth century. They are still used colloquially, but often with a but of irony.

Many people use the term guys to collectively refer to a familiar group, regardless of gender. This term seems to be used somewhat more by men than women when refering to women or a mixed group of men and women. In general, most women do not seem to object to the term when used in this collective way.

The singular guy is generally applied only to men. To suggest a particular woman was a good guy would seem a bit off, regadless of who used it.

All ofthe above refers to US usage.

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