I often hear 'bro' being used in a gender-neutral manner among younger speakers (mainly teenagers), and I'm wondering about the specifics of this trend. (Or at least it seems like a trend to me.)
Here are a few contexts, though it's possible that there are more:
- When talking to other girls to show incredulity:
Oh my god...Bro, he said that? Out loud? To you? Bro, I can't even...
Here, the bro is pronounced as it normally is, which is along the lines of /bɹoʊ/. It's being used by one girl to address the other girl.
- When relaying prior information:
And I told her, 'bro, you need to calm down.' And then she said...
Here, it's pronounced a little more sharply, and with a slightly different vowel: /braʊ/. In the original exchange that's being recounted, I doubt that the girl who was told to calm down was addressed as bro, but it's been added in during the retelling for whatever reason. This bro seems to be used in a similar manner to the AAVE girl.
- To show any sort of intense emotion:
Bro, we won! We won!
I distinguish this from example 1 because this one is pronounced differently, with the /br/ sound split up. (Like some people do when turning crazy into cuh-ray-zee) It's a bit like /bʌɹaʊ/, with the emphasis on what is now the second syllable.
What I note is that though it's used to refer to girls, it's only used this way by girls. In other words, bro's original 'guy → guy' and later 'girl → guy' scope now seems to have widened to include 'girl → girl' as well. (The boundary between 'guy → girl' seems to remain untouched.)
Another thing is that third-person 'bro' (Bro was like 'I'm so cool'...) also seems to have remained gendered and only used when referring to males.
This article is the most academic examination I could find, but it only touches on bro and instead focuses more on dude and guy. There are a couple of threads I've found that also center around this phenomenon, but there isn't much specific information.
- Is 'bro' gender-neutral? (In my experience it is, so the rest of my questions are sort of leading off of that)
- Since when has it been gender-neutral?
- Among what age demographics is it gender-neutral?
- Is it likely that it might become as ubiquitous as 'guy' and 'dude'?
- Has there been any focused research done on this?