Curiosity Corner: Guys and Gals

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Curiosity Corner: Guys and Gals

Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Lander University

Question: We use the terms “gal” and “guy” to refer to females and males. I can see where “gal” would be a slang contraction of “girl”, but where does “guy” come from? (Asked by a curious guy.)

Reply: I had to look to find this one. We use “guy” to refer to the male species – this guy, that old guy (like me). However, the word originally meant someone that was grotesque or weird looking. And, it is an eponym – a word formed from the name of a real person. The person in this case was Guy Fawkes, the infamous leader of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot in Britain. Guy and his buddies hid quite a few barrels of gun powder under the Parliament building, with the intent of blowing up King James I and Parliament members on November 5. The plot was discovered, and Guy and most of his co-conspirators were captured and executed.The day of the planned big boom (Nov. 5) became know as Guy Fawkes Day, and eventually became the equivalent of the American Halloween. Grotesque effigies, know as “guys”, were carried through the streets. There were bonfires and fireworks – masked children begged from door-to-door for pennies for “guy” (fireworks). By the 1800s, “guy” was used in Britain as slang for someone who exhibited weird dress or behavior.

In America, however, the term “guy” got cleaned up and came to mean simply “a man”. This filtered back to Great Britain (U.K.), and “guy” doesn’t imply much of a “weirdo” anymore.

OK, how about you answering some questions.

Here’s a couple I gleaned from The Learning Kingdom and a couple trivia type. Everyone should know the answers.1. How many muscles are there in an elephant’s trunk? 2. What fish travels 800 miles backwards? 3. The longest English words without the vowels a, e, i, o, and u, are “rhythm” and “syzygy”. I’ve got rhythm, do you have syzygy? 4. I was reading an opisthograph the other night. Have you ever read one?Answers: 1. The trunk of a full-grown elephant is about 7 feet in length and weighs 300 lb. This extension of the nose and upper lip has more than 100,000 muscles and no bones. 2. Chinook salmon fry (young fish) are hatched in high mountain streams. When a year or two old, they return to the Pacific Ocean, being carried downstream. But, their current-fighting instinct keeps them facing upstream. For the most part, the 800-mile journey is completed swimming upstream while moving downstream. 3. You might have a syzygy if you’re a heavenly body. In astronomy, this is an alignment of three celestial objects, such as the Sun, Earth, and Moon or a planet (as viewed from above). Syzygy for the Sun-Earth-Moon system occurs at full moon and new moon. 4. I’m sure you have. An opisthograph is a manuscript or book with writing on both sides of the pages. Students sometimes turn in a report as an anopisthograph and waste paper. And now you know.

Check out last week’s Curiosity Corner here.

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, Science Division, Lander University, Greenwood, SC, 29649, or for e-mail, Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. © JDW

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  1. Um ok… Interesting? 😛 LOL

  2. Oh the things that you learn online!!! Do you know the origin of soccer/football, as it is called in Europe? It will surprise many.

  3. Hello Jerry,
    Thanks for the interesting history re: the word “guy”. I notice that “guys” is commonly used as a gender inclusive term in the blogosphere, and I find that puzzling.