Folks is folks

My folks—excuse me, my parents—have a few pet word peeves they’ve passed on to me. I’ve written of several already. Another class of them: the way we address each other collectively.

My father hates it when people in service roles, such as waiters or store clerks, call customers “you guys.” For example, “I’m Jason and I’ll be your server. How are you guys doing tonight?”

Similarly, my mother hates it when people refer to other people as “folks.”

Naturally, I’ve become attuned to this and, when I address groups at work, prefer “ladies and gentlemen.” My ears perk up and bristle when I hear “you guys” or “folks.”

Last Friday night, I was on a plane experiencing a delayed departure. After taking an snooze and finding the plane was still on the ground, I began my favorite game of sizing up my fellow passengers and imagining their stories. Seated across the aisle from me were two young gentlemen wearing shorts and flip-flops (an air travel pet peeve of mine), and speaking a language I couldn’t discern. I surmised it was a European language of some sort.

Just then the pilot came on the loudspeaker for his second delay announcement. And for the second time, he began his announcement with “Folks, …”

The gentlemen beside me responded to this in an amused and animated fashion. In their indeterminate language, the only word I could understand was “folks,” which they uttered several times as they seemingly pondered the meaning—or, more probably, the context—of this word.

It sounded to me something like:

 Wat het proefgemiddelde door doet; mensen? Ik heb dit woord “folks” gehoord alvorens maar niet kan begrijpen waarom hij het gebruikt om de passagiers op dit vliegtuig te richten. Ik dacht ” folks” was een word dat wordt gebruikt om ouders te beschrijven. Wij zijn niet de kinderen van deze loods. Ik ben benieuwd waarom hij hij die ons richt deze manier is. “Folks?”

At that moment I decided to not look down on these young men for wearing beach togs on an airplane and instead admired them for questioning the flight captain’s language in addressing his paying passengers with such familiar informality.

 To my mind, a flight captain’s calling us “folks” is the same as our saying to the pilot upon deplaning, “Later, dude.”

Ladies and gentlemen, are you with me?

13 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Rants and Raves, Travel

13 responses to “Folks is folks

  1. William Greene

    My eighth grade history teacher, whom I LOVED, constantly and repetively addressed the class collectively as “people”, or to stress a point “PEOPLE”.
    I noticed it, but didn’t mind. Her eloquent narrative of history were stories of emotion like Shelby Foote. She made me a life-long fan of all history, PEOPLE.

  2. Dianne

    You are not alone. Check out the last question/comment in the Social Q’s column that ran in the Sunday NY Times Style Section on Fathers’ Day: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/fashion/social-qs-plenty-of-seats-but-only-one-behind-the-wheel.html?ref=socialqs

  3. Mom

    Thank you! And thank you again! (I think our previous president gave birth to the misuse of this word when he referred to “the Al Qaida folks” or some such obvious gaffe.) And just like a good case of poison ivy, the populus picked it up—let’s hope a cure is not far off.

  4. Ellen

    Yes. George W. used folks alot, and it drove me crazy. I think it was worst when he refered to the folks working in the World Trade Center.

  5. Pat Abrams

    I have never used the word folks, but i must confess that I can hear myself saying “you guys” sometime in my past. Mea Culpa!

  6. I must say I sometimes use ‘folks.’ It just depends on the situation, but generally I don’t overdo it, knowing full well (a) some people become a bit upset with it because ‘folks’ can sometimes be a pejorative term in my part of the world (Asia), or (b) some others don’t really know what it means (which also happens in Asia).

  7. Tom

    Phew! I thought I was the only one who had an issue with the word folks. My work colleagues (over)use this word All.The.Time. and it drives me crazy!

    Okay, I feel better now.

  8. Dr. Falk

    The people whom I have heard use the term “folks” are invariably projecting themselves as much above the “folks” whom they are addressing … above them in terms of status, intelligence, wisdom, etc. So they cast their audience as naive, bumbling, fools of low class who need to be educated by them. Sort of in the same way as addressing people as “country bumpkins”, but a little more disguised. But what is really grating, is that the person using the term “folks” is just a conceited, arrogant jackass with an faulty self-image.

    So yes, I’m with your Mom and others who hate those conceited, egoists when they use “folks” in their talking down to people.

  9. rob

    Not even remotely with you. My goodness gracious, folks, what in the world is wrong with you? Is this all you have to worry about? Especially Dr Falk, who has apparently projected a negative and entirely unsupported-by-facts theory about arrogance onto the situation.
    I know this is a blog about words, but c’mon — seriously? The word “folks” comes from the same place as the German word “volks”, as in people. English doesn’t have a general second-person plural like Sie (German) or Ustedes (Spanish) or вы (Russian), etc — and the language needs one.
    “Folks”, “you guys”, “people”, whatever — when you consider all the ways people *could* be addressing you (“over-privileged, over-sensitive lightweights”?), IMO “folks” is pretty nifty. Basically, if your life is really so great that this is this worth taking the time to complain about, then I celebrate with you the rich blessing of your existence, and encourage you to move on to other topics about which to be concerned…

    • Thank you for your comments, Mr. Ryan. I am always open to suggestions for topics.

      • rob

        I’m interested in your take on moving toward phonetic spelling. I’m all for it, but then I’m a former grammar nazi turned grammar apostate, and I think I’m in the minority on the issue…

  10. I think “folks” sounds fine when used occasionally in the second person. It’s the third-person use that came to be pathologically overused in the mid-aughts and is now a well-established infection in American English. The high-profile “person” I first noticed using “folks” a lot in the third person was Donald Rumsfeld–please excuse this unpleasant reference. I assumed at the time it was just something he’d picked up in the bizdick world he came from. I realized it had gotten out of control a few years ago when I started noticing intelligent thirty-somethings in business environments referring to people as “folks”.
    I’m afraid that the best way to sum up the state of American English is: “That’s all, folks!”

    • rob

      What do you suggest instead? English pronouns are a weak lot (no gender-neutral 3rd person singular, so the plural — “they” — does double duty, causing consternation among the grammar nazis; in the 2nd person, the plural — “you” — is the same as the singular, making it imprecise and feel informal; “you guys” is even more informal, giving your dad heartburn; etc.)
      I think unless you’ve got a great alternative, “folks” is one of the best options we have…

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