« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Bob Lind, Published April 04 2014

Neighbors: Is the term 'gals' sexist? Readers respond

An email came recently from a woman who objected to this column’s use of the term “gals.” She said it was “sexist.”

Wondering if that term – and the use of “guys,” which the woman also doesn’t like – offended others, Neighbors asked for this column’s readers’ opinions.

Here are some replies:

Patricia Belknap, Fargo – “I say it is OK to use the word ‘gal’ when talking about women. According to Webster’s, it is a short term for girls or women; ‘gal’ sounds young and hip”

Sandy McCartney, Fort Worth, Texas – “I grew up in Casselton, N.D., and lived there until 1981. My family still lives up north, as do I now in the summertime, in a lovely campground just south of Detroit Lakes, Minn.

“When I started visiting from Texas more regularly, I admit the use of term ‘gal’ startled me a little bit. It in no way offended me; it is simply not a term we use much down south. I think of the term as a quaint regional saying, much like the tendency for locals to say, ‘Will you borrow me a dollar?’ instead of ‘Will you lend me a dollar?’

“If you banish ‘gal,’ what’s next? Hotdish? The horror!

“I’m fixn’ to come up there in a month and see ya’ll, so you gals and guys be good now, you hear?”

Kimberly Onnen, Barnesville, Minn. – “I don’t find the use of ‘gals/guys’ offensive at all. In fact, I use the ‘you guys’ to encompass a group of women, men or a mixed group; ‘Hey, do you guys want to go grab lunch?’ I’d much rather hear ‘gals’ than ‘chicks.’

“I vote for you to keep using these in your col-umns. So long as they aren’t used to put people down, which your use hasn’t been, then I think you can use ‘gal’ or ‘guy’ as you wish.”

Ross Nelson, Casselton – “ ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ are the formal terms for men and women, and ‘gals and guys’ are the informal reference. There’s nothing wrong with the latter.

“How is ‘gal’ sexist? It merely points out gender, as do terms such as ‘woman, girl, lady, female, distaff,’ etc. Don’t let a single belly-acher push you around.”

Shirley Labine, Fargo – “I don’t think there’s any-thing wrong with either ‘gals’ or ‘guys.’ ”

Dorothy Orts, Oriska, N.D. – “I’m OK with ‘gals’ for girls. What really annoys me are the majority of wait staff at restaurants who call everyone ‘guys,’ even a table full of elderly ladies. Once in a while I correct them if I’m feeling testy, but don’t do it often because I don’t like to embarrass them. I wish managers would correct them.”

Jim Iverson, Moorhead – “What’s disturbing about this piece (the ‘gal’ column) is that way too many people find it fashionable to be offended about something. Worse yet is a person who is genuinely offended over the word ‘gal.’

“What is truly offensive way beyond losing sleep over somebody being a ‘guy’ or ‘gal’ is people who drop the race card whenever convenient. I disagree with many of the policies and options of our president. I couldn’t care less if he was pink or green, but because I may disagree, I am automatically a racist! That’s the best you have got? How about putting a cogent thought together so we can discuss the pros and cons of an issue and stop calling me names. Wow, what a concept.

“Please, please, PLEASE don’t cave and stop using the words ‘gals’ and/or ‘guys.’ We don’t need another person crumbling to political correctness. We have too much of it al-ready.”

This email comes from a woman who asks that she be called “A gal not named Sal” – “I’m not a big fan of the word ‘gal,’ as it seems a bit dated, but given the colloquial flavor of your column, I think you should keep using it, just to prove you don’t need to bow to every ’politically correct’ demand that comes your way. This politically correct mentality is making the whole country paranoid. People in some cities lose their jobs over less than calling a woman a ‘gal.’ ”

Gary Otnes, Fergus Falls, Minn. – “The non-sense regarding never using ‘gals’ or ‘guys’ is just that. For pete’s sake, those two terms have been around nearly before the dinosaurs and is not offensive in any respect!

“I can see not referring to a group of registered nurses at a convention as a bunch of gals, as it’s not respectful. The same holds true for, say, a male convention of internal medicine doctors being called guys. But it’s silly to get sweaty in the pants over using gals and guys in informal speech. So, Neighbors, please keep using gals and guys. There’s not a thing wrong with either one.”

Heather Syverson, Fargo – “Some people seem to be constantly searching for something to complain about. Based on The Forum’s opinion section, there are a lot of people who are full of complaints about the newspaper. Your references to guys and gals are not offensive to me or (I assume) to other reasonable people.”

Don Such, Fargo – “I think ‘gal’ is perfectly acceptable, considering the informal tone of your columns. Except in the case of the gal who complained, where ‘grouch’ is more appropriate.”

A woman who asked that her name not be published – “Responding to ‘gals’ being a sexist word, no, I do not use it that way at all. I even call a bunch of my gal friends “guys.” Often I will say to a group of my gal friends, ‘What do you guys think of my new purse?’ I have always used those words more as a term of endearment to either group I am talking to.”

A man who doesn’t want his name published – “Oh my! I think someone has way too much time on her hands. I predict 99 percent of your mail will be positive for you. As for the ‘gal’ in question, maybe she should use her time volunteering and not complaining about such trivial things.”

Ben Reierson, Minot, N.D. – “That woman is a nut and part of what is wrong with this country. Too many thin-skinned wimps. There is nothing offensive about the term ‘gal.’ ”

Hollys Peterson, Minnewaukan, N.D. – “Merrian-Webstger notes this word ‘gal’ has been in existence since 1795 to mean girl or woman, so I don’t think it has done much to destroy the English language. Happy to see this, since I do use the word occasionally, but not as often as I use ‘guy’ to refer to persons of either sex. I’m a 67 year old woman, so I’m not a youngster about to corrupt the English language. I have collected English books and dictionaries since high school.”

Jane Voglewede, Fargo – “The term ‘gals’ would be all right if it were limited to folksy, informal use in the same circumstances as one would say ‘guys’ to apply to boys or men – as in ‘Hey, guys, let’s get some lunch.’ Un-fortunately, it is vastly over-used and inappropriately used.

“My biggest concern is that many people – women and men alike – use it exclusively when referring to women. It is as if they cannot choke out the word ‘woman.’ It ought to be a simple thing, though, and it gets easier with practice.

“Try it, people! Men, women, men, women. Not ‘ladies,’ not ‘girls,’ not ‘gals:’ women. Because ‘gal is unusually informal or describes a girl or young woman, the term can diminish the status of a fully grown, adult woman.

“I realize that its use is to some degree generational, and for that reason many of your readers probably don’t mind it. But its use is declining. I don’t care for it, and I don’t consider myself a ‘gal.’ If you wouldn’t say ‘guys’ or ‘boys,’ don’t say ‘gals’ or ‘girls.’ Words do count when it comes to matters of respect and equality.”

Jack Fuller, West Fargo – “Lighten up, ‘guys’ and ‘gals’ are age-old non-derogatory references to the sexes. It could be much worse; how about ‘babes,’ ‘dolls’ or ‘dames?’ ”

Ronal Halvorson, from, he says, “the soon-to-be-Moorhead area of Oakport” – “Context, context, context! Where and how is the term used? Manager addressing the steno pool? (Do they still have those?) It would be inadvisable in today’s climate.

“Unprofessional? Yes. Sexist? Maybe, only in the context of the previous language and behaviors of the speakers.

“Something to come unglued about? No. It seems very obvious that with the current climate of everyone’s right to go through life “UN-OFFENDED,” there are those that seem to look for any and every excuse to announce that they have been “OFFENDED!”

Paul Rudh, Fargo – “Tell the thin-skinned GAL to go fly a kite!”

Marian Johnson, Brampton, N.D. – “Just giving you my opinion on the use of ‘gals’ or ‘gal’ in your column. I do not find it offensive. It is used all the time in the community where I live and has been as long as I can remember.”

Maureen Kerce, who says, “I’m a North Dakota gal who lived in rural north Florida (redneck country!) for the past 40 years” – “Free speech isn’t so free anymore, is it? ‘Guys and gals’ sound mighty neighborly to me! I learned in my E.S.O.L. (English for Speakers of Other Languages) pedagogy to let people talk as they wish.

“I also learned that there are many different registers of speech ranging from informal to formal. I have assumed your columns fall closer to the informal range on the continuum; hence, I find your use of ‘gals’ refreshing.

“Formal English is appropriate, of course, in academic written discourse, but I don’t think that’s what you’re aiming at here. Your writing has a North Dakota folksiness to it that I appreciate.”

Geraldine Cariveau, Fargo – “I am married to the best man on the face of the earth (Darrell), and I often call him ‘guy,’ as in ‘Hey, guy.’ When I give him a birthday card or Valentine card, I sometimes write ‘Guy’ on the envelope instead of his name.

“And he calls me his gal. And I sometimes sign my card to him, ‘Your Gal.” Neither of us would ever use a demeaning or disrespectful name toward each other.

“I think ‘guy’ and ‘gal’ tend to be used as terms of familiarity and of endearment: ‘The guys are meeting for coffee at Cash Wise,’ or ‘The gals have offered to help me out.’ Those are not offensive words! They are words about people about whom we have a good feeling.”

Ryan Christiansen, Fargo – “In a professional context, ‘gal’ might be taken as patronization, as if you’re speaking down to a young woman because she’s younger than you, or because she’s a woman. In casual contexts, however, the term might be considered appropriate, or even flattering, but I can’t be sure about this because I’m not a woman.

“In the end, maybe ‘gal’ is only appropriate if the social context is a rodeo or a country western concert or western North Dakota.”

There you have it; more people vote for the use of ‘gals’ and ‘guys’ than against it. Do you agree?


If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, N.D. 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail blind@forumcomm.com