Non-native here, is addressing a guy as just "guy" considered rude?

Like, while addressing a pet-store clerk: "Hey, guy, how many mice will $13 buy?"

Also, how long has it been in use?

  • See also english.stackexchange.com/q/19074/8019 – Tim Lymington Jul 26 '14 at 11:38
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    Regarding formality, politeness in conversation, guy is not used as a polite or respectful way of addressing a man. In fact, it's not a formal 'term of address.' Even in informal speech, the plural Guys! (m., neut.) is used as a term of address or an expression to call attention for a group, not the singular guy. – Kris Jul 26 '14 at 12:39
  • See also english.stackexchange.com/q/186921. – tchrist Jul 26 '14 at 13:30
  • Depends on whether the guy's name is Guy or not. – Hot Licks Mar 19 '16 at 12:54

I think Kris' comment is correct in saying that 'guy' as a "term of address" is not polite.

There is a lot of subtle nuance with terms of address. For example, "lady" is a term of respect, and it's perfectly fine to say someone is a lady, but as a term of address, e.g. "Lady, there's nothing I can do about it." it comes across as impolite, a sort of passive-aggressive use of the term of respect, turning it into one of contempt.

"Guy, can you help me out?" has a sense of condescension, because a "guy" (and similarly "fellow") is almost by definition anonymous. It implies that "I don't know who you are, and I don't care who you are, you are just a guy, and thus I'd rather not deal with you if I could avoid it, but I can't, so..."

Even "dude" isn't as grating to me as "guy". Maybe this is because "dude" is so informal that it dispenses with all pretense of politeness, and both parties will understand that. Also, it is not as anonymous as "guy". You could address your friend, who of course you know by name, as "dude" -- "Hey dude, long time no see!", and the same goes for buddy, pal, etc. But if someone said to me "Hey, guy, long time no see!" I would immediately suspect that he has forgotten my name and is trying to cover it up.


"Hey, can you help me out?" is enough. Adding "guy" isn't really rude; it's mostly just weird. People just don't use it for direct address for some reason. Here are some thing people do use commonly:

"Hey, you..." (Probably rude, definitely at least curt)

"Hey, mister..." (Just a bit old-fashioned)

"Excuse me, sir..." (Formal and polite. "Sir" is more common in the southern US.)

"Excuse me..." (Still polite, but less formal)

"Pardon me..." (Pretty much interchangeable with "excuse me")

"Hey..." (Ranges from informal to rude, depending on tone of voice)

"Hey man..." (Familiar or aggressive, depending on how you say it)

"Hey, bro..." (More familiar)

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    It's a little antiquated, but "buddy" is pretty safe. – Hot Licks Mar 19 '16 at 12:55

It is now sort of neutral informal used to refer to:

  • (Informal): A man; a fellow

  • a man or youth

Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Guy

The following may help understand the evolution of the term:

What is the origin of "guy"?

Now here's an interesting question, and one with a special resonance for me (aside from the fact that I am quite a guy myself, of course). Way back in my eighth grade English class, our teacher, annoyed at our constant vague references to "this guy" and "that other guy," announced that if any of us knew the true meaning of "guy," we'd never use the word. We all, of course, immediately decided that there must be some secret salacious meaning to the word, and spent the rest of the term snickering at every "guy" we heard.

What our teacher meant, however, was that although Americans use "guy" to mean just "fellow" or "chap," to call someone a "guy" in Britain was, at one point, equivalent to labeling him "grotesque" or "weird-looking." And we had no idea that "guy" was an eponym, a word formed from the name of a real person.

The person in the case of "guy" was the infamous Guy Fawkes, ringleader of the Gunpowder Plot. In 1605, Fawkes and his co-conspirators concealed 36 barrels of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords, their goal being to blow King James I and the entire Parliament skyward. The plot was foiled, Fawkes and most of his pals were captured and executed, and November 5, the day of the planned Big Boom, became known as Guy Fawkes Day in England.

Guy Fawkes Day eventually became the British equivalent of the American Halloween, with effigies of Fawkes being burned in the streets or carried door to door by children begging for pennies. These grotesque effigies became known as "guys," and by 1836, "guy" was being used in Britain as slang for anyone exhibiting bizarre dress or behavior.

  • In America, however, the story of the Gunpowder Plot was not well known, and by the mid-19th century we were using the British "guy" to simply mean "a man." By the early 20th century, our "regular fellow" usage had percolated back to Britain, and "guy" no longer means "weirdo" in the U.K.


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    It's even more neutral than that. "Hey guys", can be calling out to a group that includes females, even a group of all females (somewhat more rarely, but still). – Jolenealaska Jul 26 '14 at 8:31
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    I see that this answer has been accepted, but I think it doesn't address the main question, which is whether 'guy' is an acceptable "term of address". Kris' comment does answer this question very well. – Paul Richter Jul 26 '14 at 17:14
  • Well, it was implicit in Josh61's answer that addressing someone by hey guy today is equivalent to addressing someone by hey ossama a hundred years from now, when that will (possibly) have become a general expression for any human being. So it seems prudent not to do it, given that there are alternatives. – user86291 Jul 26 '14 at 18:45

I know this is an old thread but a friend and I was having this discussion today. I thought it would be OK to call someone you didn't know, like for instance a bartender or equivalent "hey guy" or just simply "guy".

I had heard it a in a tv show, King of queens actually. I found one of the episode scripts here:


First time a friend says it to another friend and the second time Doug says it to a gas station clerk.

Could it maybe be more acceptable in let's say New York than a other state?

Maybe it's because I'm not native English but Danish, but I don't think it sounds that bad or even condescending.

Anyway that's my take on it!


It is not rude imho. But then again it's a matter opinion. It is far from addressing someone as hey you jerk. That would be rude af and maybe hostile. But as for causal greetings among 2 strangers there is a slew of words that can be used. The usage of these words can be portrayed as rude or casual based on context and toanailty. The following greetings I think are interchangeable: Guy Man Bro Brother Pal Chief Boss Buddy Friend Son Dun Champ (for younger people) Dude Bud Bub And I am sure the list goes on. Agiain, context is key. These can be used as casual greetings between strangers who don't know each other's name. I don't think it is demeaning or condescending or patronizing in anyway unless you make it obvious. The obvers context of casual greetings would be sarcastic approach "wtf dude!?" cause he's not ur dude if ur saying wtf. Replace dude with any of the listed words. Now try "hey dude do you know how to get to the highway?"

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