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So I'm watching a sci-fi flick with my kids and a new character appears on-screen. My son says, "Dad, is she a good guy or a bad guy?"

I could have replied, "Well, people are more complicated than those terms suggest, and good literature and cinema reflect that fact; they're more nuanced, and so that's a hard question..."

I could have added, "You should see all the fun debates on ELU about the use of 'guy' to refer to females!"

However, a) my son is five, and b) I was enjoying the movie too much.

So I said, through a mouthful of popcorn, which I continually advise my children against, "She's a good guy."

And that got me thinking: what other expressions can we use to talk about the cast of characters allied with the protagonist and the cast of characters allied with the antagonist? The only thing that came to mind was "white hats" and "black hats," which I assume come to us through cowboy movies. But surely that's not the only alternative.

I mean, our division of characters (and fictional worlds, not to mention the real one) into good guys and bad guys certainly predates these expressions, right?

Suggestions?

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    When I was a schoolkid in England, the usual terms we used were 'goodies' and 'baddies'. (Those were the 'good old days' when it had not yet occurred to us to subdivide the baddies into bankers, politicians, oil company CEOs, lobbyists etc. :)
    – Erik Kowal
    Dec 12, 2014 at 5:57
  • Viewers usually align themselves with the protagonist in which case you could say, "they're on our side." and that means the other guys are on the other side.
    – Jim
    Dec 12, 2014 at 6:49
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    You could say heroes and villains, although to be on the side of good you don't necessarily have to do heroic things. More subjectively, we talk about allies and enemies. Dec 12, 2014 at 9:45
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    I reject the term "baddies." The other one I like :)
    – Goodies
    Dec 12, 2014 at 10:14
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    There's protagonist and antagonist, although they tend to be used mostly in singular form, and also in more formal contexts.
    – Barmar
    Dec 12, 2014 at 23:33

2 Answers 2

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That's really interesting actually. For the record, I grew up thinking 'guys' meant something like 'people' <-- equally gender-neutral and referring to more than one person. I think I vaguely knew it also meant 'men'.

Anyway, the obvious ones have been mentioned but what about 'the A team' and 'the B team' for neutrality in terms of heroics? (Heroes / villains and goodies / baddies don't really fit when the protagonist is an anti-hero because then we'd have to say anti-villain or 'person doing the opposite of the main guy/person' and it all gets a bit silly).

Basically, whoever we're rooting for is the A team.

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I deleted my old account, please only comment/vote for this answer (preferably up!)

That's really interesting actually. For the record, I grew up thinking 'guys' meant something like 'people' <-- equally gender-neutral and referring to more than one person. I think I vaguely knew it also meant 'men'.

Anyway, the obvious ones have been mentioned but what about 'the A team' and 'the B team' for neutrality in terms of heroics? (Heroes / villains and goodies / baddies don't really fit when the protagonist is an anti-hero because then we'd have to say anti-villain or 'person doing the opposite of the main guy/person' and it all gets a bit silly).

Basically, whoever we're rooting for is the A team.

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