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Guy Fawkes May Be the Root of the Word “Guys”

The word’s meaning has changed a lot throughout the centuries

Participants in costume process with an effigy of Guy Fawkes, to be burned, as they take part in one of a series of processions during Bonfire night celebrations in Lewes, southern England. (LUKE MACGREGOR/Reuters/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Today is the fifth of November—the day when Brits "Remember, remember...Gunpowder treason and plot." In 1605, in collusion with Robert Catesby and three others, says the BBC, Guy Fawkes devised a plan to blow up the British parliament and kill King James I. Though Fawkes ultimately failed, the plot has yet to be forgot.

Aside from the annual celebration—a deeply anti-Catholic holiday that recalls Fawkes' failure through fireworks, burning barrels, and effigies of Fawkes and the Pope set flame—Guy Fawkes' legacy has carried on in at least one other important way. (And no we don't mean V for Vendetta or Anonymous' co-opted masks.) The very word “guy” and the plural, somewhat gender-neutral word “guys” derives from Fawkes himself, says the Washington Post

The word has surprisingly black roots: It’s derived, etymologists believe, from the name Guy Fawkes, one of the leaders of the Gunpowder Plot that attempted to assassinate King James I in 1605. Years after Fawkes’s plan was foiled, British children paraded his effigy around on Nov. 5 — a custom that, over the course of decades, made “guy” a sort of slang, first for a poorly dressed person, and then more generally for a man ( … of any wardrobe).

“The word 'guy,' as used today to indicate a 'man, fellow, person, individual, creature,' didn't exist in 1605,” says Business Insider. “In fact, even the name Guy, a name with Norman French origins given to poor Guy Fawkes by his parents in 1570, was relatively rare in England at the time.”

Where “guy” originally carried strong negative connotations, says Business Insider, it eventually morphed into a more neutral term we use today.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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