“Guys” is one of those words that you probably use a lot without really thinking about it.
But the word “guy” has some pretty explosive origins — literally.
The term actually comes from Guy Fawkes, a 17th-century participant in the failed 1605 Gunpowder Plot (and the inspiration behind those creepy, mustachioed, “V for Vendetta” masks that Anonymous wears).
Fawkes was a Catholic during a time of great religious conflict and persecution in England. He was also a member of a group of thirteen conspirators who wanted to restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. Their idea was to blow up Parliament with barrels of gunpowder in order to kill the Protestant King James I, the Privy Council, and the bishops of the Church of England.
Fawkes was not the leader of the group. He’s remembered because on November 5, 1605, he got caught in the basement of Parliament with enough gunpowder to level the building (authorities had been searching the building after receiving an anonymous tip).
Things ended pretty badly for Fawkes. He was most likely horrifically tortured on the rack. He managed to escape a grisly execution by jumping off the scaffold and breaking his neck. For centuries, England has celebrated the foiling of the plot by burning effigies of Fawkes and other figures on November 5. Those likenesses became known as “guys.” According to the Boston Globe, the term morphed into a way to describe creepy people. Over time, it became a generic term for men, although today it is often used as a gender-neutral phrase.
With all that in mind, can you call your coworkers “guys” in the office? Just in time for Guy Fawkes Night in England, Business Insider spoke with three office etiquette experts about whether or not it’s OK to call people “guys” at work.
All three experts urged people to avoid the term in the workplace. However, as with most things, it often really just depends on your company’s office culture.
Etiquette expert and speaker Jacqueline Whitmore says it’s not a good idea to call coworkers “guys” at all.
“It is not proper etiquette to refer to everyone as ‘guys,'” she told Business Insider. “This is a slang term and should be avoided. Use ‘you all’ or ‘everyone’ instead.”
Business communications expert and speaker Barbara Pachter agrees that it’s rather casual and informal. She recommends “team” as a substitute.
“Saying ‘you guys’ is very casual and informal,” she says. “Using ‘you,’ ‘the team,’ or ‘everyone’ is more professional. And writing ‘you guys’ in an email seems sloppy.”
She also notes that while some consider the term relatively gender-neutral now, others view it as a term to describe a group of men.
National etiquette expert Diane Gottsman says that “guys” is a term of familiarity, friendship, and even endearment. She also notes that it’s rarely meant to be an offensive phrase.
“However, in a professional setting it’s best to err on the side of caution and refrain. It may come across as too informal or lacking sophistication,” Gottsman says. “While not everyone may be offended to hear coworkers refer to fellow colleagues as ‘guys,’ clients, supervisors, and colleagues may or may not not appreciate the informality. The lack of formality may come across as inarticulate in a professional, conservative business environment. In less formal situations, it may be less of an issue, but why take a chance?”
So the consenus is, if you work in a somewhat formal environment, it’s better to refrain from calling people “guys,” or things might just blow up in your face.