I'm having a bit of a discussion (in a locked post) about the connotations of the word girl. So I shall post a poll, because that's always fun. Feel free to expand or criticize or whatever in the comments!
Thanks for saying where it came from, it's always confusing when people don't :)
I'm sure I've had this conversation before, and actually, I don't know when I use it. I have to prod my mind with various phrases and see if they sound right.
I *think* I and other contemporaries (up to 30ish) use it with no expectation of offense with social or romantic situations, dependent on the context but not the person.
And it seems somewhat relative. I think mum thinks of people younger than her as girls, grandma people younger than *her*. And when I was 16, I probably *wouldn't* have thought of a 24 year old as a girl, but now I do...
Somehow saying someone is a girl I know sounds more natural than someone being a woman I know. Though I don't think I'd say 'boy' there, I'm not sure if I'd say 'man' either, maybe something slangier?
It's funny, there are a lot of word pairs where the masculine and feminine absolutely do not mean the same thing. Boy and girl is one, but think also: gentleman versus lady; bachelor versus spinster; bitch and bastard. So I think comparing boy is something of a red herring.
It's interesting that you distinguish between the class of women who are young in some objective sense, and the class who are young compared to you. I think the latter is probably very common, but I'm not sure what that implies for men using the term for women of their own age. I guess either that the men think of themselves as young, or they think of women the same age as younger in some way.
I was thinking about 'girls' - I tend to use it collectively when I have some passing acquaintance with either the people themselves or the institution in which they're collected. Hence 'Drisha girls' and 'Chovevei boys,' or 'the boys' when it's my brothers. There are exceptions. 'Men' and 'women' is awfully generic, but sometimes 'boys' just implies too much youth. So I substitute 'chaps,' but there isn't really a corresponding term for females. Applying 'chaps' to females is just too jolly-hockey-sticks.
On a slightly related note, you could do a poll about partners and what we call them...what do you do if you think 'husband' sounds unbearably Victorian but can't stand 'spouse' and are sick of the weird looks you get from 'partner?' 'Other half' is unbearably coy, 'man' unbearably retiring, 'sex-muffin' not suitable for general conversation, and 'best badger' incomprehensible.
I've always struggled with this one - when I was going out with the man I am now married to, in our late 20s, I felt "boyfriend" made us sound like teenagers and didn't adequately reflect the longevity of the relationship. He then became my fiance, which I felt sounded incredibly pretentious and now he is my husband, which does, I agree, sound archaic. I usually plump for "my other half" if just using his name is not specific enough, although that would be my preference. I would always try and refer to him as "R, my husband" or introduce him in the same way, as he is a person in his own right, who happens to be married to me, rather than the other way round....
The issue of what to call partners is hopelessly fraught. There's a really sad Le Guin short story about a lesbian widow who has no sensible way to refer to her relationship to the deceased. I would have thought being married made it easier though; you have a very clearly defined status.
I'm surprised you don't like husband. It seems more neutral to me than almost any other option. I remember when you were calling him by some obscure Talmudic term to imply that you were only half-married, that was very cool.
I don't feel it's sexist of me to use the term "girl" because I use "boys" as the opposite of "girls". So, for example: "I was dating this girl", "I don't date boys". Lady is a term reserved for women with high heels, jewellery and makeup. Women is for people my mother's age and older. My mother called a friend of mine a lady once (in private, to me) and my internal reaction was "she's not a lady! she's not that old!"
The thing is, I don't think the alternative to girl is lady, I think it's woman. The only time it's appropriate for me to be referred to as a lady is when someone is teaching a young child manners: say thank you to the nice lady, dear.
As for the age thing, when I was your age, I would have said exactly the same. I found it weird to be referred to as a woman. Obviously I was a girl. It's only in the last couple of years that I'm starting to feel I don't really belong in the girl category any more. But I'm definitely not as old as your mother!
I grew up with my mother using "gal" to describe women so often that "girl" is acceptable in many casual contexts to me, I don't really notice it. Also, my mother's pronunciation of "woman" ("woahmuhn") was terribly annoying. Thirdly, when I was in elementary school, "woman" was an insult that the boys hurled at one another regularly. So I didn't have the most positive associations with the word.
In everyday conversation, I'd probably refer to anyone even slightly younger than me as a "girl" (or "boy") without giving it much thought. Though when I'm teaching, and I need a way of addressing my students collectively, I think that "boys and girls" would sound incredibly patronising and inappropriate, so I always go for "ladies and gentlemen", even though that sounds rather archaic.
Definitely not appropriate for a lecturer addressing adult students! I sometimes use guys in that sort of context, depending just how formal I'm trying to be. Otherwise people or everyone. (I like the choice of icon!)
To me, the prime connotation of "girl" is "juvenile female". I recently noticed myself referring to women in their 20s as "girls", and then apologizing or backtracking.
But I will use it for adult women of any age in an informal sense. "Girl" sounds friendly, if somewhat giggly. If I run into a female friend in a store I might say "Hey, girl, I haven't seen you in a while; you're looking good!". The other day I told my fiance that my mother is "plays mah-jongg with the girls from shul".
That informal context is an interesting one. That's sort of what I was trying to get at with options like women the speaker knows well and if the speaker is female. But neither of those quite covers the usage you're mentioning here. Maybe the context means that it's ok to be mock-patronizing, with the emphasis being on the mock?
I'm not poly. I find one relationship absolutely at the limits of what I can handle in terms of the emotional effort required, so the idea of several at once makes me want to hide under the duvet until it's all over.
I'm not at all offended that you momentarily thought I might be poly though. I might be inclined to be annoyed that you momentarily thought I can't spell, however.
Looks like I'm the only one who doesn't like it being applied to women.
I see it as (generally unintentionally) offensive when used to describe grown ups, because one would never refer to a group of men as 'boys'. We've other terms that are more casual descriptors of a group of men eg. lads, guys, blokes.
I tend to use 'guys' as a gender neutral term to get the attention of a mixed group of people. If it's a female only group I might used 'ladies' or I might still use 'guys'.
If someone refers to me as a 'girl' I will call him/her on it.
I will refer to "the boys" to mean the male members of my household (all adults and two are older than I am, although not by much). If a male I knew were prone to doing such things, I might say, "Are you going out with the boys tonight?" etc.
I see it as (generally unintentionally) offensive when used to describe grown ups, because one would never refer to a group of men as 'boys'
I would under a number of circumstances. And it would mean about the same thing that referring to a group of women as girls would mean. (Either noting intentional silliness ("look what the boys have done now"), slightly patronising unintentional silliness ("boys will be boys" being the textbook case - although I detest that phrase) or as an affectionate diminutive (e.g. "the boys are back in town")).
The only time I'd use girls not as an equivalent to boys is when I'd use lads to refer to men - I can't think of a direct female equivalent. (And if I refer to lads, it almost certainly is really not complimentary).
I don't think you're the only one who doesn't like it, but you're in the minority in feeling strongly about it. I quite like guys as a gender-neutral term, but you're right, there is no real equivalent of the informal terms used for a group of males or males in general.
Who can reasonably be described using the word girl?
I really couldn't answer this question -- I think "reasonableness" in this context is about being sensitive to your audience. I think "girl" is at its most neutral (i.e. unlikely to cause offence or confusion) when used of a female child; beyond that, it's a personal judgement call whether or not to use it... and whether or not to object.
Yes, you're right, it's definitely subjective and context-dependent. I was trying to get a handle on how people would react to the term in a subjective way, but it's difficult to do that with polls. I keep posting them anyway because they generate fun discussion, and people pointing out the ways that my poll isn't precise enough or misses some of the options is itself informative.
I don't like the word "girl" (or the Norwegian equivalent, jente) used about me. I'm not a girl, I haven't been a girl in at least 12 years, please stop talking to and about me in such a belittling and condescending way.
I actually spent some time thinking about this about five years ago, checking how people used the words girl and boy about people and decided that henceforth I'd call myself a woman. But I am a minority. Most of my friends of the same age call themselves girls, and invites me for a girls night out (or in).
As far as I see it the word "girl" as different connotations depending upon the speaker and the person(s) the word is reffering to, but I do not like the connotations people put in the word when used for older people (like me). The group "just us girls" (though the girls ranges from 20 to 95 years old) refers somehow to one of licentiation and/or uselessness, like we do things we wouldn't be doing in mixed company; drinking tea and talking about our feelings, talking about our feelings and drinking shots and so on. Which could not in any way interest the "boys" who are all playing poker in their unerwear and discussing cars and porn. If I am going to hang with my friends drinking tea and discussing my feelings I see no reason why I should excuse myself by calling this a girl's night.
Another thing, I have a couple of male gay friends who includes themselves in the group of "us girls". That also annoys me, since they constantly hijack our conversations by talking -conspiratorially or complainingly - about men, the fact that we are (occasionally) attracted to males doesn't mean we have to talk about it constantly, does it? Does this mean that a "girl" means "someone who looks at men"?
One thing I use girl for in English but not in Norwegian is the word girl(-)friend, meaning either female partner or a friend who is a woman, in both these cases there are different words in Norwegian not containing the word "girl", in case of the first meaning I haven't yet found a words that sounds good and in the second I am so used to differencing between female and male friends in Norwegian that I bring this difference with me into English.
For the most part, I confine my use of the word "girl" to females under 18. However, there is one huge exception: I have always referred to female friends from my youth as "the girls." When we met up at our 40th (gleep!) high school reunion last year, all of us old broads called ourselves "the girls." My mother referred to herself and her sisters as "the girls" and her brothers as "the boys" when these people were in their 70s.
I found it hard to answer, because not enough information is given about context and tone of voice. As far as I'm concerned, the word "girl" is actually two different words. One means "female" and the other means "young female". I generally, when listening, am only aware of one meaning at a time, based on how it is used. And my answers are drastically different depending on which meaning the speaker invokes.
Basically, if the person sounds condescending or like s/he is trying to be more adult than the "girls", then it's a problem. If the speaker just seems to mean "female human", then I don't care.
I'm at an age where I'm not sure I can use the word "girl" to describe myself as I think I'm probably getting too old for it, although if I was arranging to go out with a group of contemporaries, I am certainly "going out with the girls", as my mother still does when going out with her friends. Similarly, I would refer to a group of male friends as "the boys". Yet when I am referred to as a lady (although I usually only hear this when a male friend is being sarcastic!) or a woman, I don't feel as if I'm old enough to fit into that category. A colleague (in her 50s) refers to the men in the office, who range in age from mid 30s to mid 50s as "the boys", which sounds strange to me. I'm certainly not offended if girl is used to describe me, in fact probably flattered that someone feels I am still young enough to deserve the title
it all so much depends. basically. i am first and foremost a person. i dont mind woman or girl or female. i think they can all be reasonably described to describe me. i dont think it's a major issue if someone uses the 'wrong' term to describe me. because words have such different meanings to different people i'm not going to assume someone's a sexist pig because they've called me a girl - they might well think of 'all females younger than me' as girls. however i might take offence, it just depends on context, ie. how patronising/derogatory they're being. i could take offence at being called a human or a person, genius, wonderful, anything really, depending on tone of voice... if someone calling me 'girl' did make me bristle, i probably wouldn't mention it, just ignore it. i remember once causing confusion in some parlour game by asking people (pretending to be other people) whether they 'liked boys'. now this was several years ago, and at the time i would certainly describe myself as a girl, so the equivalent of liking girls was liking boys... (we were all same age group) however it seemed the cutoff for boys is much earlier as no-one would admit to 'liking boys' i think they all assumed this referred to adolescents... i agree that the 3rd one is pretty hard to answer, other than, it all depends on context. i have pulled up people in the office for sending mass emails out to 'the Team' with the greeting 'Guys' or 'Lads' in all professional contexts i can think of i would not use gender-associated terms. Formally, i think there is generally a vague cut off at 'young women', however i think i would refer to female children as girls, everyone else as women, if it was necessary to refer to people in a gender-specific way. and referring to a group of people is quite different to addressing them. for instance, there's a group of women at a table, one of them says "Right girls... are we ready to order?" it might make me wince a bit, but no-one says "right, women...". livredor i think you always say "people" in this situation? i would just miss it out or go "right.. er... everyone? hello?" 'Girlfriend' is a little problematic when applied to women who do not wish to be called 'girls' but i think often it's accepted, grudgingly, as being a bit flawed but usable, simply because i cant think of another widely accepted word. Partner is getting there. oh yes, to me, that question only refers to 'people i dont know reasonably well' as when referring to people in a familiar context anything goes. there is no 'reasonable'. i think then words can have completely different meanings, in a way that can be quite opaque to others, and they are just a code for something else, for an intention. Last question has little to do with the use of the word girl, though i suppose 'girl' makes it even worse. sounds like a hideous conversation, alarm bells going off in my head, make polite noises and run... to give them the benefit of the doubt, if they were merely referring in conversation to any former or potential partner, and not going on about 'the kind of girl i'm looking for' it would again, depend entirely, i probably wouldn't hold it against them. unless it sounded like in their head they were like, "me, Man. you, Girl: small, feeble and, y'know, girly".
(rambleramblerambleramble) i refer to my partner as 'the boy'. i had to come up with something to use in LJ. it's just instead of a name. i dont like to refer to him by 'thing', y'know, boyfriend or partner, it just sounds wrong. he is a person, who happens to be with me, he is not 'my boyfriend'. it suffices for its use. 'the man' has too many other connotations (like, the boss). (i could call him Bunny i suppose... possibly he is more boy-like than bunny-like) people conveniently assume he's my boyfriend (eugh), child or house/flatmate. in real life i just call him by name, if it needs clarification i will say boyfriend, because people understand the nature of our relationship by that description, even if to me, it sounds all wrong. i dont say partner in speech because invariably people say 'you mean boyfriend?' or 'in business?'.
why is it that men are expected to take offence at being called boys but women aren't? is it because women are supposed to not find it demeaning or belittling to be expected to be girl-like? notions of girliness - non-seniority (juniority?), inferiority, weakness, unworldlyness, frivolousness, insecurity, immaturity... previously the girl/woman role was blurred by these conventions and expectations, while boy and man were distinct. this still persists but part of it is just the terms persisting in use, and also there are just too many inferences and meanings covered by very few terms. makes them kinda loose.
livredor - are you going to do a poll on 'gay' anytime soon? ...
I think that "girl" works in some ways as the standard female form of "guy" (a term I use moderately frequently and in a not-terribly-unisex way), as well as a fairly symmetrical equivalent of "boy". I think I have in my head an analogy with "lady" corresponding with both "gentleman" and "lord".
I think it depends on the person and the context they're using it in. Personally I don't like to use 'girl' or 'boy' as a description of anyone adult.
On the other hand I know other people that use girl/boy and have been described as both girl and boy at different times. In the context it was used it wasn't offensive, so I have no real problem with it.