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 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.
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?
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.
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