Wednesday, November 01, 1995


MOST people, evens Americans, who have very little excuse seem to prefer to believe that the reason they refer to each other as "guys" is related to an incident, the anniversary of which some British people will celebrate this Sunday. When Guy Fawkes led his failed coup d'etat in 1605, he had no way of knowing that he was about to offer up his name as a kind of rallying call for the men's movement.

Fawkes is not, however, the only one under suspicion of furtively aiding the popularity of the word. Also standing accused are the Hebrew goy, meaning gentile, and a number of terms rooted in the Latin for guide. Still, Fawkes and the effigies of him known as guys, which were already well known as such at the beginning of the last century, seem to be holding the smoking gun.

The term had reached the United States by the middle of the last century, and was already popular long before Damon Runyon's 1931 Guys and Dolls outing. But Runyon did a great deal more than give the term publicity. Sky Masterson and Miss Sarah Brown also made sure that the word would forever be implicated in what were not at the time called gender roles.

Runyon also created an unbreakable link between "guy" and crime that was still holding strong when Nicholas Pileggi wrote Wiseguy, later filmed by Scorsese under the title, Goodfellas. Pileggi's characters turned out not to be particularly sagacious folk, but simply the sort of people whose wisdom deficit one did not bring up members of the mob.

"Doll" has more recently faded into the shadows, becoming a derogatory term even for toys, but guys, whether wise, regular, normal or nice, are experiencing something of a renaissance. The rainbow nuances of bloke and lad are fast disappearing as the male is increasingly crushed into the ill fitting trousers of guy hood, desperately seeking validation of body odour and bad personal habits through the pages of Loaded.

In Garrison Keillor's 1993 The Book of Guys, one nameless bearded character seems to adopt a Fukuyama like view when he assesses the changes in the status of "guy" as related to the fall of the Iron curtain. "I miss communism When the Soviet Union fell apart I don't know it seemed everything went slack ... Guys lost interest in baseball, guns guys quit messing with cars. I say nuts to sensitivity. Go ahead and fart."

Well, as Fawkes himself was known to remark, a desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy, so light the blue touch paper and stand well back.


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