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I consider the phrase “you guys” to be sexist and unwelcoming (even though I am well-aware that many people don’t). I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this. After a back-and-forth in comments with another member about a post that used this phrase (and about the OP’s intentions, and whether they were relevant), a moderator deleted the phrase and the comments about it, to my relief.

In the future, may I simply quietly edit it out, or replace it with something more inclusive, myself? Or is this “changing the OP’s intent”?

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    $\begingroup$ In what context would it be necessary to address a group of people directly (be it with "you guys" or something else) to begin with? I'd view this exactly as superfluous as salutations like "Hello" at the beginning of a post, which we also generally discourage and edit out, i.e. I'd think that we just always edit these out even when they're not objectionable in any other way. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Oct 13 at 9:04
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't have an issue with removing the phrase. I also agree that the intent of the OP is irrelevant in terms of how the phrase might make others feel. I was commenting on addressing the concern that the OP was gendering other users on the site, which does depend on the intent of the OP. The OP could have replied "I am not gendering, I am just giving a greeting." I think accusing other users of actions that we cannot for sure say they were engaging in isn't welcoming to users as well, so I said something. But other that that I agree with you 100% in how this phrase should be handled. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 13 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ I think a better comment to address such issues could be "This phrase might be perceived in a poor way, so just to be safe can you please remove it? (or if you removed it yourself you could say I have removed it)". That way you aren't indirectly accusing another user of doing something that they might not have been doing. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 13 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist My point of view is that if a reader feels gendered by language perceived as sexist, then the writer, not the reader, has done the gendering and is responsible. Anything else is a form of blaming the victim of sexism. In the future I will remove language like this rather than comment on it. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Oct 13 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ related: Please use gender neutral language. $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Oct 13 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ If you want to make this a consistent policy, you'll have to be ready to process 1300 posts. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Oct 14 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ I didn’t put the “policy” tag on my question, or ever suggest that we concern ourselves with old posts. All I wanted to know was whether it’s OK for me to edit out such language when I come across it. This site is inconsistent in more ways than this. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Oct 14 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ The answer to that question is that he thought it included her, and she thought it didn’t. She was clearly offended. If we want to be an inclusive site, we must listen to those who feel excluded, not those who are unintentionally doing the excluding. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Oct 14 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ @G.Smith I'm just saying that if it's offensive and intolerable, then it needs to be edited out of all past questions and answers, just like a curse word or slur would. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Oct 14 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ And so the conclusion is that if I am not willing to edit 1300 posts, it must be inoffensive and tolerable? If so, respectfully disagree. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Oct 15 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ I think we already have an answer here: it's fine to edit the phrase out when it comes up. If someone wants to go back and edit it out of previous posts then that's fine too, but due to the great number of posts that already has this phrase that seems unreasonable. I think a good middle ground is to just edit out what is seen in future posts. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 15 at 2:49
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist I agree. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Oct 15 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ Language, and our understanding of it, are constantly evolving, and we can't overhaul the text of every post each decade to reflect evolving norms -- as rob's answer notes, American English has some inertia here. There is no need to go back and track down all old posts. Simply revise them when/if you come across them naturally. If somebody does want to go through the backlog of edits, more power to them -- just don't flood the front page with old posts doing it, or we'll end up having a different conversation! It's the same advice we'd give for salutations, "thanks," and other fluff in posts. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Oct 16 at 0:55
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    $\begingroup$ As a small aside, when I first glanced at the title the question that came to mind was who would think a Lagrangian is sexist? Clearly I need better reading comprehension. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Oct 18 at 17:33
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Any time one finds language that could be considered unwelcoming, I think the right course of action is to edit the post to change or remove it. The usual editing guidelines still apply, so:

  1. Make sure the post is still just as clear, if not more clear, after the change is made;
  2. Try to improve other areas of the post at the same time;
  3. Update the post to reflect clarifications made in comments,

and so on. As with any instance where edits are made, be mindful and respectful of the author and don't leave edit comments that could be perceived as unwelcoming also (i.e. no "Fixed horrible English" or "Removed language that reveals OP is a sexist dinosaur" or something).

As ACuriousMind mentioned in a comment, I'd be hard-pressed to think "you guys" is absolutely critical content in a post and almost always safe to remove. Anything that is not part of the core of the question (greetings, thanks, random musings) is fair game to be removed as part of streamlining a question or answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Should one edit it out? Or rather should one flag it for moderator review if it is something that is offensive? $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 13 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist This is a moderator who is saying edit it out, so I don’t understand why you are asking this. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Oct 13 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @G.Smith I am not trying to fight the moderator on this. I am just wondering if one should flag offensive content instead of just removing it. I would think that users who post offensive things should have some action done so that they don't do it again. I am asking a question, not telling the moderator they are wrong. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 13 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist I would recommend users editing it out, but if OP begins to argue or it seems like there's going to be protracted disagreements, feel free to bring us into the loop at that point. I think something like "you guys" is "offensive through ignorance" rather than intending to be offensive. If somebody posted something where the intent was clear to offend, then let us know. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Oct 13 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 thanks, that makes sense. Plus I suppose the rude and abusive flag is more for posts where the whole post is essentially offensive rather than just a part of it. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 13 at 17:32
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@tpg2114's answer is the right one from a policy standpoint, but it's worth making an extended comment to observe that "guys," specifically, occupies a strange place at the intersection of formal vs. informal language and gender.

It's totally true that, at least in the US, "hey guys" or "you guys" is commonly used as a genderless plural address. I naturally use it when I'm speaking collectively to my different-gender children ("hey you guys, come to dinner") and my children use it with equal comfort when addressing same- or mixed-gender groups of their peers. But all of us seem to use "guys" with a genderless meaning as a term of address, but with a gendered meaning when referring to an unknown person. This is especially clear among the teenage girls in my life, for whom a sentence like "oh my gosh, you guys, let's talk about guys" (using an all-female and an all-male meaning right next to each other) would be completely idiomatic and immediately understood.

That's ... a weird usage for a word, which I personally hadn't considered until an example like that one was made for me. Furthermore, for many older US-English speakers I know, the genderless address does not feel natural, and they feel compelled to address mixed-gender groups as "guys and girls" or the like.

A question on Physics.SE that starts with "Hey guys" is overwhelmingly likely to be an effort at being informal, rather than an effort at being exclusionary. That particular idiom is neither burn-it-down offensive nor problem-free. Better to remove it, respectfully. But if a debate arises, it's better to have that debate in a dedicated space like this Meta question than in a comment thread. Comments are not good for subtlety, and inclusiveness issues are often surprisingly subtle.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with this answer. I am from Texas where "guys" is considered to have these two meanings. But if it is considered to be sexually exclusive to anyone it should be edited as we should strive for not just for correctness, but also for politeness and inclusiveness. $\endgroup$ – Adrian Howard Oct 13 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ gendered meaning when referring to an unknown person I think this is important since the reader is an unknown person. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Oct 13 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ Plus, I’m not sure the level of informality implicit in “you guys” is warranted on this forum. It may work well for your children or close acquaintances but I would think neither of these applies here. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Oct 13 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero Not everyone is making particularly "formal" posts; and TBH I don't think this site has any such requirement. I don't think PSE has any rules against being that "informal", especially since the level of informality that the phrase "you guys" has will obviously vary from person to person. I understand why the phrase "you guys" is problematic; but I think it's also important to understand that for some people, saying "you guys" is totally normal outside of very formal contexts, and I would not consider SE like a black-tie event (no offense anyone...). $\endgroup$ – JMac Oct 18 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @JMac I did not mean to imply black tie in any ways but I would think something a little more “professional” than “you guys” is warranted. I’m good with this expression in “chat” but in a post that can be accessed publicly I’m not so sure. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Oct 18 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero If you're under the impression that chat can't be accessed publicly, you are mistaken. Chat seems to be more informal because of the immediate back-and-forth, and the mechanics of archiving and search are different, but our public chat rooms are public. $\endgroup$ – rob Oct 19 at 3:23
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    $\begingroup$ More to the point: informality is fine, y'all. Rudeness, informality, and exclusionary language are three different things, though they sometimes overlap. $\endgroup$ – rob Oct 19 at 3:25
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I consider the phrase “you guys” to be sexist and unwelcoming

As a minor point I usually use the expression "Folks" to start a letter or email to a group of people. This would normally be considered gender neutral. I dare say it not a perfect use of English, but it works a little better than "guys".

However it must be pointed out that practically anything can be considered offensive by someone. I have even seen people complain they are not being addressed in a gender specific way (not just neutrally, but in a specific way).

I think the common sense idea of editing something (or removing the offending remark) is quite reasonable as long as it does not damage or alter the meaning of the original author. One thing to note is that (AFAIK) very small edits are not allowed by members with low reputation, so it is not as trivial to do as it may seem, so patience is required by all involved.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree on using ‘folks’, which I have done for more than 20 years in a national lab environment without objections. Neutral, inclusive, and short. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Oct 18 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ “Folks” could be regarded as belonging to common class and could offend or exclude people of standing. $\endgroup$ – blanci Nov 18 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ @blanci Bluntly anyone offended by a remark they consider to make them "common class" has a huge ego problem and I am personally very happy with such a result. As I pointed out in my answer anything could (indeed will) be considered offensive by someone. If someone thinks they're too good to be "common" then sod them and their ego. They need taking down a peg or two, not their egos reinforced. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 19 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ That is a good point @StephenG. We really should be hoping to offend those who we think deserve to be offended. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Nov 19 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist That's not what I said. I said they deserved to be offended if they think they're better than the "common" man. Don't lie about what I said. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 19 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG Sorry, I don't see the difference. You think they deserve to be offended, and you said you would be happy if they were offended. So it looks like to me you want to offend those that you think deserve to be offended. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Nov 19 at 17:16

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