Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The you-guysing of America

The Rascal was in a Rockford restaurant the other day -- JMK Nippon, a pretty good Japanese eatery -- where our server set what seemed to me to be a new world record for use of the term "you guys" while dealing with just one tableful of diners.

It was awesome. For an hour or so, in utterance after utterance, never once did this young lady refer to the six of us as simply "you" (as in "Would you like to have drinks before dinner?") No way. It was strictly "you guys" this and "you guys" that.

Of course, we've all become accustomed to the ubiquitous use of this term among wait staffers in restaurants -- even when the customers are elderly women (in which cases it's especially incongruous). But familiarity with the offense has not diminished my annoyance at hearing it.

I sometimes want to tell the offender: "You sound like an idiot. We're your customers and your elders. Don't address us as if we're your imbecile friends discussing some matter of little import on 'American Idol.'"

But I don't say that. I just sadly resign myself to the likelihood that this verbal rudeness will remain a blight on American service industries and other parts of our culture for the rest of my life. It's even evidenced at times in business meetings, where the user of it runs the risk of diminished stature.

Oh, there'll always be isolated exceptions. Some restaurants admonish their waiters to avoid "you guys" -- and to refrain from such atrocities as "I'm Derek, and I'll be your server tonight" (as if I care what his name is or don't know why he's standing there with a pen and order pad), or kneeling at the table to talk with the patrons (which is appallingly discourteous), or asking every 90 seconds if everything is all right. But those places are rare, indeed.

The cause is lost, my friends. According to linguist George Jochnowitz, "the you-guysing of America," as he calls it, is a fait accompli. All we can do now is warn our children against it and hope that they'll see the value of our advice. Fat chance.

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