is “dear sirs” outdated or sexist?

A reader writes:

I am hoping you can settle a debate that was brought up at work. Is “Good morning Sirs” correct, either grammatically or in modern convention?

A female colleague hates it when emails are sent out to senior leadership and contains the greeting “sirs” because she feels that there is an assumption she is male (we work in a predominantly male field), while another (male) colleague argued that it was similar to saying “guys” (albeit more formally). He did say that he avoided the issue entirely and instead used “good morning all” or something similar in his email correspondence when emailing multiple people at once.

Personally I don’t use it because it feels old-fashioned, but now I am curious. Is it correct or not? Or is it simply old-fashioned and no longer the norm?

Hell no, it’s not correct.

Using “sirs” to address a group assumes everyone in that group is male … and when you do it in an email to people in authority, it implies that surely there are no women in decision-making positions or in professional positions at all.

It’s offensive.

And I can tell you, as a woman in senior positions, when I’ve received correspondence addressed to “dear sirs,” there is no faster way to annoy me and make me think you are out of touch with modern business (and with modern life) and clearly not someone I’d want to do business with.

That’s before we even get into how weird and retro it is, completely aside from the sexism and even when one is addressing a man. Who is calling individual colleagues “sir” these days? Are they also calling individual women “ma’am” or “madam”? And in writing? It’s odd, to say the least.

In fact, why the focus on gender at all? It’s not in any way relevant at work.

As for your coworker’s argument that “sirs” is like “you guys” … no, it’s not. Would he really walk up to a group of women and greet them with “sirs”? I doubt that very much.

(What’s more, “you guys” is problematic itself. I know it’s used as a generic plural, but a lot of us have started to rethink that and try to avoid it — because it’s another instance of the male being used as the default, like the old generic “he” that really meant “he or she.” Like many people, I grew up saying “you guys” to address a group — even a group of all women — but what convinced me to stop was that people don’t refer to an individual woman as “that guy.” So it is male, and I want to stop using it for the same reason I wouldn’t use “Congressmen” to refer to a mixed-gender group of members of Congress. I’m not going to judge anyone for using “you guys” — since it’s still very much part of mainstream culture — but if we’re going to be thoughtful about language, it’s another one to think about. I’ve found, especially in writing, “y’all” is a useful substitute.)

{ 976 comments… read them below }

    1. LimeRoos*

      Agreed :-) Sassy Alison is awesome. I was re-reading another post before checking for comments on this one and Sassy Alison made a fantastic appearance in the comments when one poster was insulting anyone who worked for non-profits while also trying to defend non-profits and getting upset people were calling them out on it. Alison shut it down beautifully.

      Also that may have been funnier in my head because of the timing of my readings. Ope.

        1. Mockingdragon*

          omg it’s not just me? XD the “surprise me” feature to re-discover old drama is my favorite way to kill time

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Surprise me has led to 24 open AAM tabs that I’m currently reading through!

            (Starts with one, then related posts, then ‘oh the day before looks interesting’ until I’ve got loads open. Almost like TVTropes)

        2. LimeRoos*

          I didn’t link it, but this is the title of the post – former-boss-keeps-trying-to-pull-me-into-drama-interviewer-told-me-that-i-was-misleading-him-and-more. It’s the 3rd question down and the interesting discussion is the second comment thread.

    2. Suzy Q*

      Yes! I also used to not be bothered by “you guys” but it just grates now. I am not a guy. I usually use y’all, sometimes folks. Everyday sexism is still rampant.

      1. Preppy6917*

        As a native southerner (and male, FWIW) who now lives on the west coast, I’m genuinely surprised people haven’t adopted “y’all” or at least “you all”. It’s inclusive and easy. “You guys” feels incredibly out of place to me most of the time, never mind “dear sirs”…

        1. Chilipepper*

          I’m firmly northeastern and a transplant to the south (and female) – y’all and all y’all are my go to expressions now! I have firmly adopted them! I have also trained myself away from”guys” as it refers, as Alison points out, to men.

            1. Snailing*

              Just wait until someone throws an “all y’alls” out there – there are endless possibilities!

          1. David*

            Northeasterner here. I *hate* y’all, period. You won’t catch me dead using it. Most people with whom I’ve discussed it and are not themselves from the South have agreed.

            I use the common usage, “you guys”, for the NE and West Coast when speaking with people from those two locations, and “you folks” for all others.

            This entire argument is annoying; there’s just no reason to think “you guys” as currently used has any real meaning other than “you (plural)”.

            1. SarahKay*

              Do you expect women to join you on a “guys’ night out”? Because if not, that’s why “you guys” does not mean “you (plural)”; instead it is, to at least some extent, exluding women.

            2. Maxie*

              I also can’t stand y’all, especially when teachers use it. Let’s not teach incorrect grammar and usage in elementary school.

              1. bishbah*

                Incorrect grammar and usage? Do you object to all contractions, or just this one in particular? Second person plural is quite standard.

                Now, if they are teaching it as “ya’ll,” then you and I are on the same page. Because that’s just WRONG.

              2. traffic_spiral*

                Until English adopts a better second-person-plural, I’m sticking with y’all. Feel free to try and bring back ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ if you prefer, or make up something else.

            3. NYC Taxi*

              Agree. Also northeasterner and a woman. I hate y’all with the passion of a million suns. My workplace skews female and people mostly still say guys. I just say ‘hey everyone’, or some variation, because I don’t want someone complaining to HR that I called them “guys”—as if that’s the most important thing going on in my workplace.

            4. iantrovert*

              David, supposing one of your friends were to ask you how many guys you’ve slept with, would you be including women and nonbinary people in that number? Or does “guys” refer to men by default?

            5. Andrea*

              Yep totally agree. I would feel like I’m trying to be cutesy Southern saying “y’all”. I think it’s a regional thing, I am from right outside Philadelphia and EVERYONE uses “you guys”. I am a woman could care less if someone says “Hey guys” referring to a group that I am in. Honestly, I use “Hey guys!” when I see a group of friends–even if they’re ALL female. I just do not get the outrage over this, there are bigger hills to die on linguistically.

              1. Anne*

                Interestingly I will also refer to groups of women or mixed groups as guys. “Hey, give this to the other guys” in a game or whatever. “Those guys over there” etc. I just use guys meaning…group of people. Im from the NE too and people would think you are joking around if you say y’all.

                I live in VA now (in a city) and I’ve barely heard y’all at all unless someone is being dramatic.

            6. Self Employed*

              I grew up in California using “you guys” or “dudes” and a Midwestern mother who hated “y’all” because it reminded her of her racist cousins in the South.

              I am happy to use “y’all” or “folks” or “folx” as appropriate in the context.

              1. Lily of the meadow*

                I’m from the South, and I find your comment quite presumptuous and harsh. Southerners are no more racist than any other demographic group and far less than some groups. What you are doing is just as bad as what you are accusing of doing; you are judging a whole demographic based upon your assumptions of a mistakenly perceived external characteristic. I do not understand why people think this is okay.

          2. Galloping Gargoyles*

            A solid Midwesterner my whole life but with lots of Southern friends and y’all is now a regular part of my vocabulary. I do still use “you guys” or “guys” but this thread is making me re-think that. I will probably still use it occasionally when I’m not paying attention or thinking but I do love y’all. All y’all as explained to me is when you’re upset with a group of people so I tend to not use that one a lot but I’d be happy to have that theory debunked. :-)

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Y’all is the one southern word I’ve refuse to smooth out of my code-switch vocabulary. I used to get made fun of for using it, but now everyone around me seems to have picked it up. Y’all is a great friendly, casual, non-gendered, all-purpose term.

        3. Bee*

          I am way too obviously from Connecticut to use “y’all” in speech, it sounds completely absurd coming out of my mouth, like I’m either making fun of Southerners or being weirdly patronizing. “Folks” is fine, though!

          1. Justice*

            I’ve found that using “you all” is both useful and natural. I too wouldn’t say y’all in a business setting or an email, since I only say it when I’m joking.
            But you all always works.
            I’m from the northeast too, but I lived in GA for a few years and I picked it up.

          2. Classic Rando*

            Meh, I’m from CT, live in NY state and use both “y’all” and “folks” all the time. Adding new words can feel weird at first, but once you get them settled into your usual routine they sound natural

          3. Anon Y. Mouse*

            Yeah, that’s along the lines of why I can’t make myself use y’all.
            Southern culture isn’t my culture, so it feels like I’m making fun of folks, or being appropriative of a culture that isn’t mine.

            1. Lily of the meadow*

              I’m from the South, and we don’t find it appropriative if people use “y’all”; we think it is a wonderful thing! It means you are APPRECIATIVE, not APPROPRIATIVE!!

          4. Analysis Paralysis*

            For what it’s worth, I’m from the south and living in New England, and it makes me a bit twitchy when people from around here suddenly start peppering “y’all” and “folks” into their speech, so I think your instinct isn’t wrong.
            It’s not offensive or appropriative per se, but when Southern speech/culture/what have you is brought up in this area, the association is usually not complimentary. So it feels weird when the same people that tease me about my accent start “y’all”-ing everyone in a deliberate way.

            I do think you could probably achieve the same gender neutral goal with “you all” instead of “y’all”, and it wouldn’t come across as strongly.

            Fun fact— the “-all” plural isn’t only used in “y’all”. . . in my native dialect, I could ask “what all are you getting at the store?” or “who all is coming to the party?”

            1. Happy*

              Oh, that’s interesting! I didn’t realize that the usage in “what all are you getting at the store?” or “who all is coming to the party?” isn’t common throughout the U.S. I’m going to have to read into that.

            2. not owen wilson*

              I’m from Wisconsin and we use all very similarly there. But I also don’t say y’all for exactly the reason you brought up — it just sounds SO weird coming out in my nasally Midwestern accent. But I definitely use the “all” plural a lot as you described it!

          5. wordswords*

            Same! I use “you all” — I grew up in southern Ohio, so that feels like a completely natural plural to me — and I use “folks.” (I do also use “you guys,” because I do consider it gender-neutral, but I try to be mindful about it rather than defaulting to it around people I haven’t heard use it similarly, since I know many people disagree.)

            But “y’all” is a specific regionalism, and not my region. It feels weird and fake to me to say it, like I’m co-opting somebody else’s dialect, and I always find it a faintly jarring when somebody with a northern US accent like mine uses it. Yes, even after years of it spreading around the internet; it’s clearly gaining ground, and I’m not fighting a battle against it or anything, but I’m not adopting it any time soon either. It’s a perfectly valid and useful plural form! But it’s not my dialect’s form, and I’m going to use the plural options that are.

            1. allathian*

              I get not wanting to use dialectal expressions from a dialect that isn’t yours when you speak, but that doesn’t mean it’d be inappropriate to use it in writing, as in an email greeting, even if you’d never say it out loud.

          6. Student*

            “Folks” is my go-to. I am also not from the part of the country that uses y’all in normal speech, so it doesn’t sound/feel authentic. I do envy my colleagues who can more fluidly use the “y’all” and “all y’all” constructs though; I think they’re a great piece of speech evolution.

            I also envy my colleagues who can smoothly deploy a strategic “youse” in speech. Doesn’t work well in written form by comparison, though.

        4. Liane*

          In both high school and college I took Latin*. I always translated the Latin second person plural as “you all.” No one complained.

          *because I thought Latin would be easier since there wouldn’t be a conversational component. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

          1. anon lurker appa*

            To be quite honest, Latin is also how you all and y’all worked its way into my everyday language.

          2. ReadingTheStoics*

            My high school Latin class used “y’all” and “all y’all” to conjugate verbs. I felt totally vindicated as a child of a military family, raised in parts of the South that tried not to have the bits of Southern that get made fun of by the rest of the country. “Don’t draw out your vowels like that, people will limit your future opportunities.” Fortunately times have changed…somewhat.

        5. Flora*

          Some of us have. I’m not Southern, and am Left-Coastern, and I’m here for y’all (in all the ways you might read that).

        6. Clisby*

          Or instead of “Good morning sirs” just say “Good morning.” Or “Hi, all.” Or “Hello”. Or “Allies”. Or “Friends”. Or any number of things that don’t bring gender into it.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I’m an IT manager, I’m totally saving that one for when I need the team to have a good laugh!

        7. PhyllisB*

          I’m Southern I will use “y’all” till the day I die. However, it does have a correct usage; it really irritates me when people just throw it in to be funny. When my mother and step-father married, I gained a whole family from New Jersey, and one of the first things I did (at 14, no less) was to give them a lesson on the proper usage. When we went for a visit, they asked me to share this with their friends. So we now have a whole contingent of New Jersey folks who use y’all correctly.

        8. Allegra*

          I’m a Texan now living in New England who naturally just says “y’all” and “folks” a lot, and after this comment thread I’m now terrified everyone around me hates it and thinking I’m faking, eek! XD

          1. Analysis Paralysis*

            Allegra, if you’re from Texas, I can’t imagine anyone would think you’re faking! And I certainly know people from various parts of the country who have absorbed it naturally.
            I don’t know how to explain it, but when it’s an obvious affectation and not natural idiolect, you can practically hear the air quotes.

        9. Melissa*

          I grew up in the PNW. We just don’t see “you guys” as literally describing guys aka men. Same thing with “dude.” I’m making a conscious effort to switch away from “you guys” (and many other problematic words and phrases), but to be totally frank it is one of the more difficult to drop from my vocab!

          1. Valkyrie Ice Queen*

            I’m also from the PNW and until “guy” always means a mixed group and never ever “man,” it’s gendered. No one, when asked “how many guys have you dated?” would include women or non-binary folks in there. I was a die-hard “guys as a gender neutral” user until I realized it was akin to using “man” as a gender neutral. It just gets away with it more because it’s informal. But informal everyday sexism is still sexism, and there are a lot of people who find it grating if not outwardly offensive. If we can change other default language (i.e. gay/lame/crazy/r-word) to be sensitive, why not go for something that is truly gender neutral?

            (So, Melissa – kudos for your efforts! I appreciate it so much. The words I have trouble replacing are “lame” and “crazy.” But language is ever evolving, and I guess that means I have to, too!)

      2. iglwif*

        I also use y’all a lot, and I’m Canadian, so it sometimes startles people … which is not a bad thing ;)

        1. Waffle Cone*

          +1 for ‘team’ – especially over email. “Hi everyone” works just fine in person.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m aware that I still use it a lot. British slang is kind of my default as well (how many times have I called someone here ‘mate’ now bothers me) and I’m struggling to think of a way to address my whole team that’s truly non gendered.

        In emails etc though I just use ‘Dear all’, but that’s awkward to do vocally in person.

  1. BubbleTea*

    I like “folks” as an alternative to “guys”.

    I got pretty annoyed by an email responding to me (where I had signed off with my definitely-female-coded name) as “dear sir”. That’s just lazy.

    1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      Yes! I use “folks” all the time. “Sir” is clearly gendered and I would also be offended to be addressed that way.

      1. Blinx*

        I think of “folks” in the family sense. I had finally settled on using it when referring to my dad and step mom (going to see the folks) instead of “parents”.

    2. Purple Cat*

      I fully acknowledge that I might be out on an island on this one, but I HATE the use of “folks”. Mostly because I identify it as being used by politicians that want to be seen as “just one of the guys”.

      1. Gingerblue*

        It usually seems a bit condescending to me. Not as poisonous as “ladies”, but on that end of the politeness continuum.

        1. NOT A LADY*

          THANK YOU. I could never fully articulate why the phrase “ladies” felt so condescending, but it does & I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks that.

          1. Happy*

            I find it condescending because it’s gendered and when used as a sign of respect, it implies that upper-class (ladies) is preferable to lower-class (women who would not be considered ladies).

            No, I’m not a lady. No, I do not take it as a compliment when you insist that I am one. I am not at all comfortable on a pedestal and you can take you chauvinism and shove it.

          2. Happy*

            I find it condescending because it’s gendered and when used as a sign of respect, it implies that upper-class (ladies) is preferable to lower-class (women who would not be considered ladies).

            No, I’m not a lady. No, I do not take it as a compliment when you insist that I am one. I am not at all comfortable on a pedestal and you can take you chauvinism and shove it.

            1. Gingerblue*

              It’s not even that I think it’s objectively, logically bad; it’s just that I’ve never heard anyone using it who wasn’t being a total jackass.

            2. allathian*

              “Ladies and gentlemen…” in an announcement or at the start of a speech is fine, but otherwise my reaction is the same as yours. It sounds condescending.

          3. Em*

            When a man greets a group of women I’m part of with “Hello, ladies,” I always respond with “Hello, gentleman,” in hopes he hears how ridiculous he sounds.

        2. NRG*

          “Ladies” usually makes me think of either Jerry Lewis or FedoraMan. Neither are appropriate for professional interaction.

          1. Buffalogal*

            Common in gatherings in England is, “my lords, ladies and gentlemen”. Which carries the interesting notion that all women are ladies but not all men are lords (although they are all supposed to be gentlemen, rather than commoners I guess).

            1. Onthetrain*

              That’s not ‘common in gatherings’, unless you are particularly upper-class. It’s used on very formal occasions, by a master of ceremonies etc, and is recognised as being very old- fashioned.

            2. OlivePenderghast*

              I think that is used only very rarely but have frequently heard “ladies and gentlemen”.

            3. Student*

              …because it wasn’t legal in the UK for women to hold seats in the House of Lords until the 50s/60s, and women are still ineligible to hold many of the hereditary peerage (inherited fancy nobility titles) that are one of few paths to the House of Lords. As a consequence, most of the House of Lords are male.

              As a corollary, the House of Lords is not ever called the House of Lords and Ladies. Unlike the US Congress, which has moved away from Congressman in favor of calling them by various gender-neutral terms. If they are referring to the literal House of Lords, as in a legal or ceremonial situations, they’re just going to refer to them as “Lords” even though there are some women. I expect the House of Lords would be abolished long before it modernizes its name to House of Lords and Ladies.

        3. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          YES. THAT. There are people who can pull it off naturally, but usually in very informal settings.
          And “y’all” feels similarly performative to me, given that it isn’t part of the vernacular where I live. “You guys” as a gender-neutral very much is, and I’m not really reconciled to the “but it’s the plural of a gendered term” argument. English evolves in weird ways, and English evolved in my region so that “you guys” is a true neutral (and one my agender self feels very at home in.)

          That said, it’s easier to limit “you guys” to places where I know the audience, and I don’t use it for work. I tend to use “good morning, all” or “everyone” for groups.

      2. Lacey*

        I don’t care for “folks” myself, but I think it it’s because it reminds me of a particular kind of culture I grew up with… a sort of pseudo-southern redneck mishmash that I just personally find grating.

        1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          Interesting…I’m in ivory-tower New England and it is casual and a bit “country” but not in the good-ol’-boy sense. I find the regional variation so fascinating!

          1. Llama Llama*

            Samsies. I find it to be very very common in New England for people to use “folks” when addressing a group, regardless of socio-economic status. I do it allllll the time. I also use “friends” particularly when writing, like “Dear Friends”

            1. Anon Y. Mouse*

              See, if someone who I’m not friends with or at least friendly with used Friends with me, I get a very “what cult are you trying to get me to join” kind of vibe!

              1. Maeve*

                As someone who was raised as a Friend (as in, The Religious Society of Friends), that one confuses me when used outside of that context!

                1. Gingerblue*

                  My mind immediately goes the the manga 20th Century Boys, which has a charismatic cult leader just referred to as Our Friend.

                  Our Friend! Our Friend is here!

                2. iantrovert*

                  Maeve, similarly that reminds me of the Public Universal Friend, who was a member of the same and lived in the late 1700s/early 1800s–and chose to intentionally present as genderless. Makes my nonbinary heart happy to know that others who did not fit “man” or “woman” lived long ago and are remembered, even in a small way.

          1. Lizy*

            Meh. My husband and many people around here proudly call themselves rednecks.

            I just asked him, mainly out of curiosity, how to define a redneck. He said “second only to God” so there’s that.

          2. ReadingTheStoics*

            We currently live in a place that somehow manages to believe that redneck is both a racial slur and to be proud of it. One’s present company Matters A Great Deal. I’ve come to believe that dialect is built by close relationship networks and torn down by distant mass communication.

        2. alienor*

          I don’t like it either, and for the same reason. I spent most of my childhood in the southern U.S. and also strongly dislike “y’all” – it sounds like a stereotype when coming from actual Southerners and like an affectation from everyone else. I usually either say “everyone” as in “hey everyone,” “what does everyone think?” or if it’s only two people, “do you both agree?”

          1. TC*

            I’ve used “you all” successfully for ages. It feels more comfortable than saying “y’all” as someone who isn’t from the south.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            We’ve been teaching the city folk here in DC to say y’all property for a while now, and they’ve finally gotten the hang of it. It only sounds afflicted from people that keep trying to force it to be more than one syllable. It took my cousin nearly a year at a rural university to learn to smooth it all the way out, but she can do it now.

            I spent a lot of my early professional career trying not to sound southern so people didn’t dock IQ points before they even knew me. I am from the south, I sound like I’m from the south, and, if twenty years into my career, that makes someone chuck me into Clampett territory, that’s kind of their problem now.

          3. yala*

            I think “y’all” is essentially a perfect word. It gives us (back) a plural “you.” It’s short and easy to say. It may infuriate some folks to hear it in further contractions, but I think “y’all’d’ve” (or “y’all’da”) is easier to say than “you all would have.”

            afaik, it’s also part of AAVE, so it’s not just limited to the south.

            I will say that “sounds like a stereotype when coming from actual Southerners” just reminds me rather vividly of how quickly I got my Cajun accent shamed out of me as a child. Because it was a regional accent, it was the way at least some of my family spoke, but the *stereotype* was that it was the way uneducated/backwater folks spoke.

            Regional accents and slang aren’t bad things, even if there are “stereotypes” associated with them.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I like a variant: “Dear gentles.” Probably not as correct, but I just find it’s more fun for me.

          1. Former Young Lady*

            “Gentlepeople” made me smile and I think I’ll incorporate it into my lexicon.

            I fear autocorrect would result in “Dear Gentiles” with the shorter version…

        2. PeanutButter*

          I use folks or yinz, personally. I’ve really doubled down on the yinz-use in the last year since I moved to the Midwest in an area with a lot of Southern transplants, mainly because of the consternation it causes among people not familiar with Pittsburgh. I think it’s my latent orneryness coming out in a harmless way.

      3. Julia*

        Folks has become very popular in social justice circles (and, by osmosis, in the broader culture) over the last ten years. I dislike it, but I don’t have any really concrete reason for that.

        1. Formerly Ella Vader*

          Around here, social justice and arts groups tend to spell it “folx”, as an indicator that they are making a conscious choice not to use traditional forms of address. It’s not just used in the vocative (“Folx, thank you for attending this session”) but also in other third-person contexts “Let’s open this up to more folx next time”.

          In my industry sector I’d use something else for formal written address. “To whom it may concern” probably, and for a group of my familiar peers maybe “Hello colleagues” or “Hi team”

          1. Self Employed*

            Yes, that’s where I’ve seen it too. I think it sounds a wee bit precious but I go along with it because it means something to them and I want to be kind. Kindness is more important than prescriptive grammar/spelling.

      4. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Thank you; I didn’t want to be the only one! I don’t have great alternatives, though, in my attempt to steer clear of ‘guys’.

      5. Anonys*

        I would defo feel weird saying “folks” to higher ups – it seems over familiar to me. Maybe that’s just cause it’s not in common usage in the UK.

        In emails to multiple people in my company we generally say “Dear/ hello/ good morning.. colleagues” or “Dear/… all” I think both of those are very neutral and inclusive. If exclusively emailing higher ups I think I would personally be more inclined to user “all” though I think either would be fine.

      6. EventPlannerGal*

        Yeah, I honestly despise the use of “folks”. I just find it incredibly twee and grating. “Y’all” I don’t mind in some contexts, but there is a whole thing of British people using it in this weirdly affected way. Chalk me up as another vote for “yous”, that’s the only one that feels natural to me (I guess until someone finds a gender-neutral version of the preferred respectful salutation of my people, “hoy, big man”).

        1. Scotlib*

          Your people are from Glasgow then. I do love ‘hoy big man’, or ‘big yin’, which sounds non gendered but is definitely coded Male.
          The plural ‘youse’ is gender neutral, but probably not for work though. If I’m sending to a group then I’ll just use ‘Hi’, or if I know them well it’s ‘Hi wonderful people’. For my work (public library) podcast I start with ‘Hello lovely pod people’, which I know has sci fi / horror implications, butbi love it too much to give it up

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        I love “folks.” My husband, son and I used to frequent a family-style restaurant years ago that had a waiter who would say “What can I get for you folks?” Instead of the overused “What can I get for you guys?” I always left him huge tips just for being so civilized – besides being a fabulous waiter. If people think “guys” is so great and inclusive (hell no), why not use “gals” to address a group that’s predominantly male, and see how they like it?

        1. PeanutButter*

          “why not use “gals” to address a group that’s predominantly male, and see how they like it?”

          I did indeed do this for awhile in a (non-work) group where there was a vocal subgroup that insisted “guys” was gender neutral. Spoiler alert: they didn’t like it.

        2. CB212*

          Honestly I use “you guys” all the time – are any other commenters old enough to remember Rita Moreno on the “Electric Company” hollering “HEY YOU GUYSSSSS”? – but I get that it doesn’t feel inclusive to everyone. If you hear any men pushing back insisting on it being gender neutral, you can always ask them how many guys they’ve dated – 9 times out of 10 that’ll make the point well enough.

      2. Cj*

        I don’t like “folks” used in this context because where and when I grew up (upper Midwest), it was used to refer to your parents, as in “how are your folks doing?”

        1. allathian*

          Ah, but there’s a difference between “folks” and “your folks,” at least for me.

    3. Sylvan*

      I like “folks,” too, in informal emails. I don’t think you can substitute it for “dear sirs” if that’s the formality level you’re going for.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        This is where I fall as well. I think it’s great for informal communication, but I wouldn’t use it in any kind of formal situation. I do use y’all in formal and informal situations, though, and I know that some people find that a bit grating.

        We’re at a point where language is flexing a bit, so I think it’s normal for there to be some growing pains on these things.

        1. Llama Llama*

          For a real, formal email I say “Good Morning, ” or “Good Afternoon,” and then launch into the email. It’s a nice work around so I can just avoid gendered language.

          1. Cj*

            This is what I do. I think the suggestions in this thread are to informally when contacting higher ups or anybody you don’t know already.

    4. Mike*

      I usually go with “People” or “Folks” or “Everyone” but as of late I have taken to “Citizens” when I’m addressing a group that I can joke around with a bit.

      1. Cendol*

        Haha! This is niche, but I sometimes say “Attention, Duelists” when addressing friends, in reference to a certain Saturday morning cartoon we all enjoyed.

      2. alienor*

        Every once in a while I’ll say “Hey kids, how are we all today?” when I’m in a group of my age peers (all of us are late 40s/early 50s; I wouldn’t say it to people who are legitimately young enough to be my children, for a lot of reasons).

        1. Zephy*

          I’ll use “hey kids” when addressing my coworkers, but the joke there is that I’m the youngest in the office by about 10 years.

      3. PeanutButter*

        I like “Comrades” for people I can joke around with. Also people in the actual anarchist collectives/mutual aid networks I’ve participated in.

    5. TiffIf*

      When I am not using “y’all.” I generally tend to use “Hey all” instead of “hey guys”.

      1. CeeLee*

        Same, most of my emails start with either “Hi everyone,” “Hi all,” or “Hi team.” As a female in a male dominated field, I picked up this one quite a few years ago.

    6. Unfettered scientist*

      Hmmm… I am not a fan of folks unless I’m hearing it in a very casual environment (e.g. from a restaurant waiter) but I also don’t like Y’all. It feels very much like I’m ‘putting on’ a southern accent (I’m from the north). Are there other options? In writing, I like “everyone” or “all” or “team” but I definitely use “you guys” in person. I personally don’t mind when people refer to me using that and I haven’t found a better term yet.

      1. Unfettered scientist*

        Actually, maybe ‘friends’ works for me in a casual work setting. Or ‘fellow scientists’? lol

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            Didn’t one of the kids on Full house greet people by saying “hello people”. Maybe the youngest one?

            1. Adultiest Adult*

              “Hi People!” and it was Michelle, the youngest one. Thanks for the smile!

              I use Hi Everyone (or hello everyone) when addressing emails at work. Or otherwise use names of its not a large group. We’re not incredibly formal around here, and count me as another New Englander who won’t be using y’all.

          2. A Friend*

            I’m a Quaker, and capital-F “Friends” is how Quakers commonly address each other in the plural. It works pretty well! I see “F/friends” and “Friends and friends” used to denote both fellow Quakers and others.

            It originated because Quakers referred to themselves as Friends of Jesus (and still go by the Religious Society of Friends) but I wonder if it’s stuck around this long in part because it’s a very inclusive way to address a group, even as some other Quaker linguistic traditions have faded from everyday use.

            1. Maeve*

              I am not actively Quaker but was raised that way and I always just feel like I’m in First Day School when people refer to a group as Friends! Not a bad thing, though. Loved making collages out of beans and singing songs about George Fox.

        1. Chilipepper*

          Friends can work really well depending on the setting – maybe not in the most formal situations. I know a few people who use it and I really like it when they say it.

          1. allathian*

            In a casual, social context when I’m actually among friends it would work. But I’m not friends with most of my coworkers, so being addressed that way at work would be weird. That said, my main working language isn’t English, so it’s unlikely to happen.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        I get what you are saying about y’all, but really it’s just a contraction of “you all” which is the closest thing modern English currently has to a gender neutral plural you. While it has been associated with Southern colloquial speech, there really isn’t any reason not to use it, it really does serve the purpose quite well.

        I may feel this way because y’all is pretty common here in Northern California, so it’s something I’ve said all my life without any real southern association.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          I tend to cringe anytime I hear a non Southern person say y’all. It always sounds put on to me, just like Unfettered Scientist said. Especially after having grown up with non southern people primarily using the word to show how dumb me and other southern people were.

          1. Tuesday*

            That’s an issue I have with y’all. I’m not from the south, and when I heard it growing up, it was used by someone pretending to have a southern accent. I don’t feel comfortable using it myself. I stick with “everyone” or “all,” but I wish there were an option that would have the friendly tone (to my ear) of “you guys” without being gendered.

            1. Llama Llama*

              I live in Vermont and I was raised in Vermont and I can be in Canada in under two hours (when the border isn’t closed) and today the sentence “Do y’all make fences like that?” came out of my mouth. I don’t know how or why.

          2. Threeve*

            I’m a southerner up north, and frequently get the subtle sense that many people up north think “y’all” is only okay if it’s a deliberate affectation.

            If people can tell it’s your default based on how/where you were raised, it gets the same judgement it always has.

            Like hipsters dressing like old people. It’s only cool if you’re self-aware about it.

            1. Analysis Paralysis*

              Yes, this is it exactly!
              It’s one thing if someone isn’t from the south but picked it up naturally through exposure, but as a deliberate affectation, it feels condescending. Like “oh look, we’re using one of you people’s words to show how forward thinking we are, how droll!”

      3. Roeschtabong*

        I try to stick to “you” in spoken language wherever possible, as in “What can I get you today?” (speaking to a group) or “How are you?” (again to a group). After all, it’s the official second-person plural subject/object pronoun in English, but it seems to have fallen by the wayside in favor of such constructions as “y’all” or “you guys” or even “youse” when used in the plural. So much so that a group of people, when so addressed, may all turn and look at one another to try to identify which member of the group is being addressed!

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          You’re technically correct. However the reason “you” has gone by the wayside as a plural is because it’s insufficient. It fully replaced “thou” and now that’s how we hear it. The word isn’t strong enough (apparently) to do double duty, so people have found all sorts of creative workarounds to do the work that “you” used to do.

          1. iantrovert*

            Fascinatingly, thou/thee/thy/thine is still extant in certain English dialects, although the speakers of those of course also understand the more standard you-as-singular-and-plural-2nd-person. Definitely threw me off the first time when my friend who grew up in Lancashire addressed me as “tha” (thou) in conversation! But it makes my heart happy to know that it’s still alive in some Lancashire and Yorkshire dialects. :)

      4. Marillenbaum*

        I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of “colleagues” when using email. This is also helpful when I need to address an internal email to an account that is handled by multiple people; for instance, our outreach team. I can’t guarantee I’m getting Margie or Jack or someone else entirely, so it’s just “Dear Colleagues” and it works.

    7. LQ*

      I’ve made a pretty hard switch to folks too. People of the people I’ve seen argue against folks prefer guys as a somewhat casual group convention and I do not think that they are the same and I do think that “guys” can be harmful. I’m not going to actively call people out for “guys” the same way I would for “sirs” (seriously?!) but I will argue with people who bring it up as a gender-inclusive term.

    8. Elle by the sea*

      I love and still use “youse”, but outside Ireland people just give me the blank stare. I also like y’all – at least it’s known by a wider audience.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I think ‘youse’ is in use in some East Coast urban areas. Philly? Boroughs of NYC? Not sure.

          1. Jersey Bean*

            Very surprised to find a mention of my island here! (Jersey is actually not part of the UK, but it is part of Great Britain, as they’re two slightly different things.)

          2. NJ Anon*

            I was born in NY and lived in New Jersey most of my life and have never said “youse” unless I was joking around!

        1. Elle by the sea*

          Well, I only lived in Massachusetts and California and unfortunately it wasn’t in use their. At least not with the people around me.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Youse or youse-guys: Buffalo NY, especially blue collar folks. My older relatives all use it.

        1. Chilipepper*

          So interesting, thanks!
          I really wonder what the “other” category includes.
          And I never heard of yinz!

          1. Nethwen*

            I believe “yinz” is contraction of “you’uns” which is a contraction of “you ones.” Say it out loud at conversational speed, starting with “you ones” and it makes more sense than in writing.

      3. BonzaSonza*

        Haha, people can get pretty offended around here being addressed as ‘youse’, and complain that “we’re not sheep!”

        (Probably because it’s usually said by bogans as “youse guys”, and there are a lot of ewes in my rural area)

      4. not owen wilson*

        Youse is used in my part of Wisconsin! Usually still in conjunction with guys, though- e.g., youse guys. I live in an area that was predominantly settled by Irish and German immigrants, though, so that’s probably why!

      5. armchairexpert*

        ‘Youse’ is also in Australia, but it’s very heavily class associated as being bogan slang, so much so that it would sound very odd coming from, eg, me. Which is a shame because it solves this whole issue and is linguistically perfect.

        (bogan = working class but in a certain way? And can also be rich, e.g., a ‘cashed up bogan’? Kind of the Australian version of redneck?

    9. le teacher*

      I’ve actually consciously been trying to stop saying “guys.” I am a high school teacher so I find myself OFTEN addressing the class as “hey guys.” I have a lot of alternatives. An easy one is simply saying “hello everyone.” Sometimes I use our school mascot, so think like “hi panthers!” And of course, “y’all” is gender neutral, albeit more casual. Sometimes I will even say “hi friends” to my students. I know that a lot of people roll their eyes when I tell them I’m trying not to say “hey guys” anymore, but it matters to me!

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Panthers is NOT a mascot of anything near me, but I think I’m going to start saying “hi panthers!” anyhow.

        I love that you are a HS teacher who is so conscious of being inclusive. Thank you!

      2. Clorinda*

        I say “friends” to my students. Or “everyone.” Sometimes “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        “Friends” seems to be the go-to for preschool teachers and camp counselors for my kids over the past few years, who are now early elementary age.

      4. I'm just here for the cats*

        I had a professor in college who started all of his emails as Hi guys and gals.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I’m a woman and for a long time didn’t really care about “you guys”, but what convinced me otherwise was after a friend came out as non-binary and I saw their cringing face when a group of us, about a third of whom are not “guys” were addressed as “you guys”. So I think “guys and gals” is probably not better than just “guys”, especially when gender has nothing to do with the conversation itself.

      5. nonegiven*

        That could be badish.

        We had a guy back in the day (1930s) that played football and they started calling his passes throwing ‘bombs.’ They changed the name of the high school mascot from the Bearcats to the Bombers.

        A lot of people think they got the name because the military was training people to fly bombers at the local airport during WW II.

      6. Former Teacher*

        This is where I finally put the nail in the coffin of you guys for me! my teacher training!

    10. I'm just here for the cats*

      Has anyone seen folks written out as Folx? Is there a reason for this or is it just a way some people write it.

      1. Emi*

        It comes from the use of “x” for gender neutrality in neologisms like “Latinx.” But “folks” is already gender-neutral, so it doesn’t make any sense. Personally I find it extremely grating but obviously some people like it.

        1. Student*

          Latinx is not widely accepted within the actual Hispanic US community, though, it should be noted.

      2. alienor*

        Yes, the “x” is meant to denote inclusivity/neutrality, like the “x” in Latinx. I don’t think it necessarily applies though, because Latino/Latina are inherently gendered words and folks is already neutral.

      3. Spotted Kitty*

        It’s meant to explicity include people who are traditionally marginalized. I’m not a big fan because I feel like “folks” is a fairly inclusive word, but then again, the only marginalized group I fall in is that of women, so my opinion has less weight than others in this regard.

      4. Courageous cat*

        I think it’s just virtue signaling since folks is already gender neutral but I don’t know for sure.

        1. Analysis Paralysis*

          The -x spelling definitely seems more common with the coastal social justice crowd (no disparagement meant, I’m in that crowd).
          My inner sociolinguistic student wonders whether it’s subconsciously a way to indicate “oh, we’re using the word deliberately to be inclusive, certainly not because we speak a non-prestige dialect.” *shrug* Regardless, it seems to have taken root pretty firmly in those contexts.

      5. NRG*

        I had a manager who routinely replaced “ks” with “x.” Thanx, folx, etc. It was a mystery (save 1 keystroke? ?) . He was one of the better managers I’ve had.

      6. bkanon*

        I’ve used it in chatrooms and IRC conversations since the early 2000s, so it’s not a recent invention. Like thanx or teh or boxen, it’s always been a deliberately joking misspelling for me and my internet circles.

    11. daffodil*

      May I put in a good word for a more specific noun whenever possible. I’m in higher ed so “colleagues!” or “fellow fightin’ llamas” works well but it could also work in other industries. Dear committee members, good morning team, hello veeps….

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        As a teacher, I default to things like, “Ok, second graders! Time to clean up!”

      2. PhyllisB*

        I am 70 years old. When I was in high school/college we were taught to say Dear Sir. When I went back to college in the early 90’s they were using Dear Sir or Madam. When my kids were finishing school, (early 2000’s) I don’t really know except for cover letters were addressed as Dear Hiring Manager. I have even heard it suggested to use To Whom It May Concern, but that puts my teeth on edge.
        I know people don’t mail resumes/cover letters anymore, but if for some weird reason there was a need to, what is the proper address now?

        1. wordswords*

          If it’s a cover letter, I would use “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “Dear [specific name/title]” if I knew one. In general, I would use a name if I could, or a title if I couldn’t use a name. If I don’t know either, it gets thornier. In a casual or generic letter, especially an email, one can often get away with just “Hello” as a salutation, but that doesn’t work in a particularly formal context. I do sometimes use “Dear Sir or Madam” still if all else fails — if it’s a very formal letter, but not the kind of broadly impersonal high formality for “To Whom It May Concern” to work — but I really don’t like it, because it cuts out anyone non-binary. I don’t have a better option for a formal business letter to no known name or title, though.

          I run into this to a certain extent, because I’m a French-to-English translator, and it’s much more of a convention still in French to address letters with “Madame, Monsieur…” Sometimes I know the name or title to sub in, and sometimes you’ve just got to keep it generic and do your best to match the tone.

    12. Retired Prof*

      Long ago I slipped and said “you guys” to my audience at a conference about women and BIPOC in engineering. I got schooled (standing at the front of the auditorium!) by a Black woman who said not only was “guys” gendered, but was disrespectful. She did not work hard through a PhD program to be addressed as “guy”. I took that very much to heart. I taught myself to say “folks” or “you all” (not y’all) or “everyone”. It pains me when young women argue that “guy” or “dude” are not gendered. If the terms started gendered, then they are gendered. We fought too hard to not let “men” mean “all humans” to now go along with being “guys”

      1. kt*

        Reasonably often I do encounter someone who is talking about “men” and skirting that issue of whether it’s actually gendered or not, and I always ask if I’m supposed to take it like “all men are created equal” or like “using the men’s room” (I am quite female-presenting and the folks who I end up needing to talk about this with are generally 1) not interested in me using the men’s room with them, and 2) pedantic nerds like myself so my argument that ‘using words that don’t have clear meanings is suboptimal’ tends to be received decently).

    13. Rock Prof*

      I never remember to use ‘folks’ but definitely don’t mind it. I use ‘y’all’ a lot, which is funny to me because I’m from the mid/southeast US originally and would have never been caught dead using ‘y’all’ as a teenager.
      As an academic, I think it would be amusing to address emails as, ‘Dear et al.’

    14. Quinalla*

      Folks is my other go-to besides y’all. It is about the same level of casualness as guys. At work I will also use my team or the team when addressing in the third person. A lot of people at my work have started using y’all and it is great!

      I’ve definitely gotten the “Gentlemen!” or “Gentlemen! ….oh and ladies!” greeting in a mostly male but hey a couple of us are women. I don’t like that greeting period anymore as it is leaves out anyone non-binary, etc.

    15. RadManCF*

      Another fan of folks. I can’t help but notice that it’s a cognate of the German word Volk, meaning people.

      1. allathian*

        In Swedish, “folk” means people. It’s an old word, with roots in the 6th century AD.

    16. C*

      In work settings I use “team” as an alternative “guys” a lot, as in “ok team, today we need to prioritize X.”

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Both your username and comment are on point and I’m here for it! Unfortunately no one in my company has a sense of humor and this would just fly right over their heads.

    2. anonymuss*

      A friend suggested the following for an all purpose, gender neutral email opener: “First of all, how dare you.”

        1. retrowaveRecluse*

          I’d like to send emails beginning with ‘First of all, how dare you?’ and sign off with ‘Thank you for your time. I shall confront you by Wednesday.’ Feels aptly gender neutral.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        I like that.

        In real life, I would open a letter to business with the convention you drew from.

        I’m old fashioned enough to be somewhat formal, but I am considerate enough to avoid assuming the gender of an unknown reader of my business letter.

    3. IGoOnAnonAnonAnon*

      My go-to is “Greetings, Earthlings.”
      (not really, but definitely in my brain!)

    4. Analysis Paralysis*

      Excellent!
      So is “Listen up f**kos” which is how a friend of mine begins first drafts of difficult-to-write communications.

  2. KHB*

    Back when I was the only woman on my team, whenever I’d get handed some unsolicited correspondence that began “Dear Sirs,” I’d hand it back and deadpan, “Somebody else needs to deal with this – it’s not addressed to me.”

    One of my coworkers used to address even informal group emails “Esteemed colleagues,” which I found utterly charming.

    1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      I very rarely get mail addressed to Mrs. Husbands Name; when I do, I delight in marking it “Return to sender; addressee unknown.”

      1. Nicotene*

        I hope this is not a derail but I *loathe* “Mrs. Husband’s first name, last name” more than any other convention and I really hope it is dying out altogether.

        1. Jay*

          Me, too. I’m an MD. The local Jewish Federation has a doctor’s group and for years they sent us solicitations addressed to Dr and Dr Husbandsfirst Husbandslast. My last name is not the same as his and he’s a PhD, so he’s not interested in a medical group. Eventually a friend of mine who was on the board asked me why I’d never joined. I explained that I’d never been invited. She said “We’ve sent invitations every year!” I said “Look at how they’re addressed.” She didn’t understand why I was irritated. And yes, she’s also a doc.

          1. Nicotene*

            My mother keeps explaining that it’s very necessary because all men in the family have the same last name, so how do you know which couple is being referred to otherwise, but it’s not like this has been such a huge source of confusion in my 30 years of life.

            1. Elenna*

              But… but you can just use both their names? Or first names? Something like “Mr Husbandsfirst Husbandslast and Ms Wifesfirst Wifeslast” works completely fine? (Assuming a heterosexual couple, since this seems less likely to happen to same-sex couples). Or… you can just… assume it’s addressed to the people it’s been sent to?? *brain explodes*

              1. A Library Person*

                This definitely happens to same-sex couples! Hilariously, we’ve experienced it most from our families. Neither of us changed our last names, but we’ve gotten mail to the following:

                – WifeFirst Wifelast & MeFirst WifeLast
                – WifeFirst & MeFirst WifeLast/MeLast
                – and, my personal favorite, from her cousin who apparently didn’t know my last name and/or just gave up: WifeFirst WifeLast & MeFirst

                I personally love this and think it’s funny, but one’s mileage can definitely vary with this one! If one of us had actually changed our name, I could see this feeling very invalidating.

                1. TechWorker*

                  That’s not really quite the same is it..? (No-one is getting called by the wrong *first* name, which is what Mrs Husbandfirst Husbandlast does. Like – it’s definitely irritating for people to use the wrong surname, especially if as you say, you changed it or put a lot of thought into *not* changing it. But being addressed by your husbands first name basically obliterates any individuality and reduces you to ‘wife of ‘person who’s name we bothered to remember’’.

                2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                  @Techworker, this is why my mom changed her name back to her maiden name a year after they got married. She couldn’t stand being relegated to “oh yeah, and that person that comes along with (Dad)” on stuff addressed to Mr. and Mrs Dadsfirst Dadslast. It mostly worked to get people to actually address her.

            2. Forty Years In the Hole*

              My late, lovely MIL sent me my first b’day card after after hubby and I were newly married – Mrs “HisFirstName” LastName. A gentle course correction fixed that. ;)
              Also – even after 35 yrs in the military it was still fairly common to have a soldier (usually army, male), answer the phone with “X unit, Cpl Smith – SIR!” Usually followed by a bumbly “sorry, Ma’am” when I responded…accordingly.
              Over the years we graduated to “Hello team” and other like salutations. But you still got the odd “Gentlemen/Sirs” in a blast email or ops group: someone not always clutching into their audience/old habits.

              1. Spotted Kitty*

                The first Christmas after my best friend got married, I sent her and her husband a card addressed to:
                Herfirst Herlast
                Hisfirst Hislast

                She sent me a photo of the envelopes they’d received and said, “Thank you for being the only one to get it right.” Pretty much everyone had either addressed it to Mr. and Mrs. Hisfirst Hislast or Hisfirst and Herfirst Hislast

            3. Wheee!*

              We have a terrible habit in my family of reusing first names. And when we don’t do that, they end up marrying in. My aunt tells me stories like this “Joey, my brother, did this thing. Joey, my husband, did this other thing. Joey, in Delaware, did something else entirely”

                1. BonzaSonza*

                  Or, in my husband’s family:
                  Elizabeth, Liz, Lizzie, Beth, Betty, Eliza, Lisbet, Lisbeth, Elspeth, Elspet and Liza

              1. Zephy*

                My husband has a sister who shares my first name. I didn’t want to change my last name anyway, but that’s a pretty unassailable reason not to IMO.

                I have relatives that apparently also know only one male name, so at Christmas when all the family’s gathered together, you have up to 4 generations of men named Herbert or whatever in the room.

              2. iglwif*

                One branch of my family is large, Italian, and very fond of reusing names. So you end up with (not their real names, but real add-ons) Carlo, Young Carlo, and Little Carlo — and they’re all over 40 — or we’ll distinguish between Carlo, son of Johnny, and Carlo, son of Carlo / Johnny, son of Johnny, and Johnny, son of Joey.

                1. Asenath*

                  You don’t have “Mary’s Carlo”, where Mary is the member of the family who decided to marry someone with the same first name as her brother, nephew and grandfather?

                2. Jaydee*

                  @ Asenath – But then it still isn’t necessarily clear. If Mary married Carlo and then also is the mother of Carlo, does “Mary’s Carlo” refer to Husband!Carlo or to Son!Carlo?

                  (I say this as someone whose SIL has the same first name and is thus known to her in-laws as “Son’s Jaydee.”)

                3. Happy*

                  In my family, Mary’s Carlo would be unambiguously Mary’s husband Carlo. Her son would probably be little Carlo or “Mary and Carlo’s son, Carlo.”

              3. NotAnotherManager!*

                My family is awful about this, and the second of us usually gets stuck with a middle or nickname of middle. When my friends and family collide, everyone is confused because my friends call me by my first name, and my family a nickname of my middle.

                My FIL switched from being called by his first name (Daryl) to his middle (Larry) when one of his sisters started dating someone with the same first name. He doesn’t care and has been Larry for years now, but I’d have been a bit peeved if I had to change my name because of a sibling’s boyfriend… especially one she never married! (My FIL, BIL, and nephew all also have the same name and none of them go by their first name, which, WHY pass it on if you’re not going to use it?)

                Our children have their own, nonrepeating names.

              4. ReadingTheStoics*

                My husband’s family says their surname resulted from when Elizabeth I got word that there were far too many Richards in the north of England, and not enough of them were paying taxes. There was an announcement that all the leaders of the Richards family should attend court for a special award. When the men showed up, Queen Bess ‘awarded’ them new names…Ricks, Hicks, etc.

                And this is the reason all men in his family until the last generation had alternate nicknames that have zero relationship to the baptized one. Example: “Francis Thomas Ricks” was called “Thomas” by his wife (because he was named after Francis senior, who in turn went by Francis as a middle name because of being named after HIS father)….but “Dan” by the rest of the family. Now braid in that Thomas was one of six siblings….and this daughter-in-law doesn’t attend family gatherings without a legal pad.

                (Also when the child is hollered at, the Devil shouldn’t hear the full name, places the child at risk. The Devil, being supernatural, doesn’t need a legal pad to keep up.)

            4. Jaydee*

              Wait, what? It took me a minute to even understand this.

              But sure, if I’m sending holiday cards to the Llamapallazo brothers and their wives, I could have 7 cards going to 7 addresses that all just say “Mr. and Mrs. Llamapallazo.” And I guess if a couple of them lived together or very close to each other it could be confusing?

              But I don’t understand why the solution to that is to completely erase the woman’s identity by addressing the cards to “Mr. and Mrs. Wakeen Llamapallazo” and “Mr. and Mrs. Fergus Llamapallazo.”

              Why not go with “Wakeen and Jane Llamapallazo” and “Fergus and Sansa Llamapallazo”?

              (Why yes, I did have fun making up those names. How did you guess?)

          2. Excel Jedi*

            “She didn’t understand why I was irritated.”

            I hope she’s not generally in charge of solicitations, or that group is doomed to fail. There’s no better way to alienate members (or donors) than dismissing their concerns while also asking them to do a thing.

            1. Dashed*

              Businesses need to keep that in mind too. I kept my own name when I married. Our insurance agent lost our business because she dismissed my correction. She knew we had gotten married and automatically changed my name. I called to correct it; I was not angry about it, just matter of fact. She got very snippy with me and made unpleasant comments about me, my marriage, and my husband. I told her that if my name was such a problem, I was going to solve it for her by taking my business elsewhere. She was speechless and later her boss called to apologize, but I declined to return my business to that office. If this agent felt so empowered to make derogatory comments to a customer, then that is a business that doesn’t need me as a customer. Same would hold true for a non-profit soliciting memberships or donations.

              1. Jay*

                Very young bank rep when we were opening an account in the 1990s: So you’re newlyweds!
                Me: No.
                VYBR: But…but…your ID has a different last name.
                Me: Yes. I kept your name.
                VYBR: Bank records have to be in your legal name.
                Me: That is my legal name.
                VYBR: No, it’s not. You’re married so your legal name is your married name.
                Me: My legal name is the name on my ID.
                VYBR goes to talk to someone higher in the food chain who, I was glad to see, was a woman. He returned literally red-faced.
                VYBR: We can open the account with these names.

                1. LP*

                  “Me: Yes. I kept your name.”

                  I know what you meant, but it’s much more fun to interpret this as you took VYBR’s name when you got married.

          3. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

            That sounds like a former friend of mine. When we were both in our mid 20s (which was about 10 years ago), anytime she sent me mail, it was always addressed to Miss Eeyore M. Tail. After explaining why I found being called Miss as a bit patronizing, she told me that was the proper way to address mail and she’d change once I got married. Our friendship ended for different reasons later, but this was the beginning of the end.

          4. All Het Up About It*

            Ughhhhhh. As a former database manager for a donor database: this story is poo!

            But on the other end of the spectrum, I also had to deal with unhappy donors from a different generation who always sent in checks with the name Mrs. Husband Lastname and were confused why their records got mixed up or even in one case marked deceased, as Husband was deceased.

          5. Nesprin*

            That’s rage inducing. Heaven help anyone who addresses mail to us as Mr & Mrs Spousesname, instead of Mr Spousesname and Dr. Nesprin.

          6. Boba Feta*

            I take great delight in throwing into the trash every solicitation for donations sent to “Ms. MyFullName” from my **PhD granting institution**. If they don’t have the means by which to keep track of the people on whom they conferred terminal degrees, no amount of my individual donation can help. Besides, I have no fond memories of that experience, so I feel there’s an extra layer of delicious self-righteousness in tearing those envelopes into pieces before they hit the bin.

            1. SmallCreaturesSuchAsWe*

              Well, if you have a Ph.D. from the same pretentious “public Ivy” in Virginia as I do, then it’s by design (because their founder, the hypocritical asshole, didn’t have a Ph.D.). It’s also “tradition” there (dying out by 2011, thankfully) to call all non-MD professors by Mr. and Mrs. rather than Dr. which…barf.

              I have never given those assholes a penny beyond what I owed in student loans and parking tickets. I save it for my stodgy, Southern undergrad college, which still manages to address me as Dr. FirstName MiddleInitial Hyphenated-DifficultSurname, g*ds bless them.

        2. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          I loathe it too, clearly, and if you’re using that as your salutation, there’s no better way to ensure I will never support your non-profit or candidate!

        3. alienor*

          I remember getting one or two things addressed like that around the time I got married 25 years ago, but I haven’t seen it in forever. Even my grandmother would send mail to “Myname and Hisname Lastname” or sometimes “the Lastname Family.” I figure if a woman born in the 1920s when “Mrs Hisname Lastname” was very much a thing could adapt to the times, anyone can.

          1. nonegiven*

            There are scans of old high school annuals on a local Facebook group where the teachers names were give as “Mrs. (His) firstname lastname.”

        4. Nikki*

          My absolute favorite instance of this is IRL is “Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent.” Just takes the convention to a whole new level of absurdity.

          1. bishbah*

            I suspect she embraces that archaic styling only because she can’t otherwise use the title “princess.”

            1. Ally McBeal*

              That’s correct, yes. Her title is only through her husband, she wasn’t given any additional titles upon her marriage (e.g. Kate is a princess through her husband, but she also got the Duchess of Cambridge title upon her marriage), and I think her divorce from her first husband and/or her Catholicism may have had something to do with the technicalities of nobility too.

      2. Mama Pajama*

        My 85-year-old mother addresses mail to me that way and it bothers my husband more than it bothers me. She’s old fashioned and it will never change.

        1. Nicotene*

          Strangely my mother is also this tradition’s staunchest defender. I think she’s extremely proud to be “Mrs. Dadsfirst name Lastname.” Still.

            1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

              And if I were writing to you, from one introvert to another, I’d use that form of address if I knew it were your preference! It just drives me crazy when used as the default, as it’s a much less common preference now.

              1. introverted af*

                Absolutely! If there’s a way to list or say my preference, I will tell people. But I’m also definitely not gonna insist on it in the workplace. And will happily use what others prefer. I send a lot of letters for the fundraisers I support, and it is *very* important to get that right so we don’t alienate donors.
                (Oxford commas all the way!!)

        2. KimberlyR*

          I received mail addressed to Mrs. Husband’s first and last name, and I ragged on my husband about how old-fashioned his grandmother is. Then I realized it was from MY grandfather. I hate it but I’m not going to ask either of our 80+ year old grandparents to change how they mail cards to me. I would correct anyone younger or less dear to me, however.

          1. LutherstadtWittenberg*

            My mother would be 81 now. My father died in ’92 and for a few years Mom thought about taking back her surname. She hated still getting mail addressed to Husband’s FirstName Family LastName. There are tiny spots in that age group that didn’t care for it, and I don’t think my dad would have done it either. My grandparents certainly did, but they were born when Germany had a Kaiser.

      3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I hyphenated and I do the same thing. I do accept mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Reader-Hislastname as long as they don’t include his first name on it, because that does technically cover us both within our individually acceptable standards even though he’s not Mr. Reader-Hislastname, but there is no Mrs. Red Hislastname OR Mrs. Husband Hislastname, so anything addressed to either of them goes back.

        1. Properlike*

          I got a check for our wedding made out to Mr and Mrs HusbandFirstName HusbandLastName and my husband had to talk me out of sending it back. I was insulted and convinced the bank wouldn’t deposit it, and then further incensed when the bank DID.

          1. Emi*

            Was he on the account? I’ve deposited Mr & Mrs Husband checks in our joint account because they have his name right, but my individual account wouldn’t take them.

          2. Rock Prof*

            I have felt your exact sequence of feelings for exactly the same reasons!
            With my husband’s dad, I actually did have him write a new check one time because I was depositing it on my own and was sure it wouldn’t work (we don’t have the same last name).

          3. iglwif*

            We got a bunch of cheques like that, and I was amused rather than insulted–I don’t answer to Mrs HisFirstName OurLastName, I answer to Ms MyFirstName OurLastname, but it’s not like we told all our elderly relatives that before the wedding. Our bank *wouldn’t* deposit any cheques addressed to both of us with “and” unless we opened a joint account. (They literally did not care about the names as much as they cared about the conjuction!) All of these cheques were from relatives in the US (we’re in Canada). So we opened a joint account, deposited all the cheques that used “and” instead of “or” between our names, and never used that account again except as a source of US cash when we travelled to the US.

          4. Ellie*

            My grandmother does this to me… all correspondence including my birthday card goes to Mrs . Never mind that I’m a Ms or that I hyphenated. Apparently its insulting to my husband to do otherwise. My feelings do not count at all.

            I question it on every single contract I get sent as well, ‘Mrs does not actually exist, I am . Is that going to be an issue? No, I am not going to sign with a name that’s not mine.’ It’s so annoying.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        You know who does this to me? MY OWN MOTHER. My mother who would shoot laser eyes at anyone who called by her ex-husband’s name and reverted to her birth name years ago. My mother who knows darn well my name is (let’s say) Jane Smith and not Jane Jones and certainly not Mrs. Aloysius Jones. I have been married for 20 years, so you’d think she’d get the picture by now. Nope, not just waiting on the paperwork to come through, STILL Jane Smith. No, my husband is not crying himself to sleep because I didn’t take his name, and my children aren’t confused about their parentage.

        My MIL does this as well, but she’s very old-fashioned and loves being Mrs. FIL’s full name. I take it better from her than my own mother.

      5. SarahKay*

        Anyone phoning and asking for Mrs His-lastname (these days, Mrs Ex-His-lastname), or calling me Mrs His-lastname simply get told that Mrs His-lastname don’t live here. And I never even married the bloke!
        (Sometimes if I’m bored and irritated by the way they never ask if this is a good time to call, I instead wail “I’m not Mrs His-lastname any more, he’s le-eft me!” which is an equally fast way to end a call.)

      6. allathian*

        When one of my coworkers got married, her husband took her last name. His unmarried name was a very common one and hers is so uncommon that everyone who has it is related in some way. This is unusual enough, but her husband also happens to have the same first name as her father. They also live in the same village, on neighboring lots, so they get mail addressed to each other all the time. Both of them had to resort to using their middle initials, something that’s pretty uncommon here.

        One thing that’s always puzzled me is the American tradition of giving a son the same name as his father. I think it sounds like the father doesn’t want the son to grow into his own identity, but rather wants him to be a mini-dad. Of course, most don’t go to the extreme of former boxer George Foreman, who had six sons, all named George. His daughters were some feminine variations, like Georgina and Georgette.

        There are family names that are passed down through the generations, but usually they skip at least one generation, or it’s a middle name. My first name is my maternal grandmother’s middle name, and my middle name is my paternal grandmother’s middle name.

        Here it’s severely frowned upon, if not actually illegal, to give siblings the same first name. Of course, if it’s a joint household where all of the children don’t share both parents, there’s no objection, nobody’s forced to change their name just because a step-sibling has the same name.

      7. Third or Nothing!*

        I am a woman married to a man. There is one organization that addresses mail to my family as “Mrs. and Mr. Third or Nothing” because while we are both listed as donors in the database, I am the primary account holder. Always makes me smile.

    2. OP*

      So to clarify (which looking back is an important detail) the coworkers are military. I agree that it’s a problem, but the default in Active Duty is male. Thankfully it is changing, though at a somewhat grating pace.

      1. SentientAmoeba*

        For military communication, I just used ALCON. All Concerned. When I am sending messages and gender is unclear. Dear sirs will just annoy most military women in senior roles.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        I work in garbage, where literally 99% of the workforce is male. I still expect people to use gender-neutral language when addressing or describing groups, or when the recipient’s gender is unknown. Someone addressing me with “dear sirs” would get an earful. Same deal with someone talking about “GarbageMEN” or greeting a training group with “hello gentlemen.” I am not a sir, a man, or a gentleman. People can take the two extra words to refer to me as a ma’am, a woman, or a lady. Or they can modify their language to refer to everyone as colleagues, folks, people, etc.

        In fact, the less representation women have in the field the more critical it is to use inclusive language. If only 1% of employees are women, you better bet they deal with constant discrimination (much of it systemic and/or unconscious) every single day. The last thing they need is the extra insult of someone presuming there are no women doing the job.

        1. ReadingTheStoics*

          Loving your lead phrase, “I work in garbage.” (I work in construction – dirty work is cool.)

      3. Blackcat*

        Ohhh this matters. At least one of my friends who was in the Navy for a while addressed *all* superiors, male and female, by “sir” and, yeah, group emails to superiors were addressed “Sirs”

        While I understand not liking it, this is different in a military context.

        1. Amber*

          My boyfriend is in the Air Force and he addresses men as “Sir” and women as “Ma’am” – so no that’s outdated.

      4. Observer*

        So to clarify (which looking back is an important detail) the coworkers are military. I agree that it’s a problem, but the default in Active Duty is male.

        So? There is no way to claim that “sirs” is gender neutral. And these emails OBVIOUSLY going women, or this woman would not be getting annoyed at getting these messages.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Back in the 80s and 90s I got cover letters addressed to ‘Dear Sir’, even though neutral greetings were pretty typical even then. All of them were from men – some junior to me as a Senior Manager, some senior. It got under my skin and for several months, when I sent decline letters to the Dear Sirs – declined for valid reasons, I promise! – I greeted them as ‘Dear Madam.’

      I got nasty calls from several recipients, highly incensed that I assumed they were WOMEN just because I was. I asked a couple if they realized how I might feel, being addressed as a Sir, but the irony was lost on them.

  3. JJ Bittenbinder*

    Great answer, Alison!
    It’s also so, so very easy to see who is in senior leadership at just about any organization these days that it’s impossible to believe that the writer didn’t have any way to know if they were addressing a mixed gender group. And on the slim, slim, practically nil chance that they did not have any way to verify, defaulting to ‘sirs’ is offensive and yes, makes me think the person has no idea of what the world is like after, say, 1960.

  4. Artemesia*

    I did my career in the south and many things about southern culture were distasteful to me, particularly the heightened sexism and racism (not that there isn’t plenty elsewhere, but it is really baked in in southern culture) BUT y’all is a great contribution to the language and is a perfect replacement for ‘you guys’ and ‘sirs’ — and of course ‘sirs’ is always offensive unless actually addressing a group of men in a document (and even then you may find the group at that other company now has a woman manager who will be offended.)

    1. Merci Dee*

      Don’t forget that in some areas of the south, sometimes “y’all” can be used as a singular, with the ever-popular “all y’all” as the plural. :)

      1. Sylvan*

        Where I am, “y’all” is plural while “all y’all” is plural and emphatic – showing that you’re talking about every single person in a group, rather than just a few. Might be different in some places, but singular “y’all” is a TV/movie thing IME.

        1. Merci Dee*

          The singular “y’all” is a thing in my area of the southeast, though I’ve definitely seen that it has its pockets here and there. Though I do agree with your statement that “all y’all” is definitely emphatic. Most common occurrence when I was a kid growing up was some frustrated mother saying, “if you kids don’t settle down, then all y’all are going to get your butts torn up.”

          1. Happy*

            I think this may be particular to your area/pockets! I’ve lived throughout the Southeast and have never come across a singular y’all. (With “all y’all” having the meaning Sylvan describes.)

            1. Analysis Paralysis*

              Happy— ditto here.
              Where I’m from, All Y’all means something like “each of you” or “every single one” vs “everyone”

        2. nonegiven*

          Y’all is the person or people you are speaking to. All y’all includes their families, or in a business setting, their teams or their companies.

        3. Florida Fan 15*

          North Florida native, singular “y’all” is definitely a thing here. As, of course, is plural “y’all”.

          “All y’all” is plural and somebody’s in trouble. It’s the full name treatment, but for a group.

      2. E.coligist*

        I’ve lived in the South all my whole life, and have never heard or seen “y’all” used in the singular except by people not from here. You is singular, y’all is plural, and all y’all is either emphatic or a large group.

      3. Sleepless*

        Not true, though every “Southern” meme on the Internet seems to think so. “You” is singular. “Y’all” is plural. “All y’all” is occasionally used to emphasize that “I’m talking about EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU, NOT SOME OF YOU, the way my dad used to tell the rest of the family that “All y’all are nuts.”

        1. Merci Dee*

          As mentioned above, some folks in my area do use “y’all” as a singular, without regard to whether they were living up to a slew of “southern” memes. Mostly in some of the rural areas where my father used to preach. Though some of the real old-timers in those churches had the old, stereotypical southern accents that you only really ever hear anymore in movies that are supposed to be set somewhere in the south. It’s really interesting to hear how the language, accent, and dialog of the area has changed over the years by listening to the differences in the way that the different generations in each family talk.

          As an aside, dialect coach Eric Singer has put out some really cool videos on YouTube that mention how the “typical” southern accent has changed over the years as more and more areas become increasingly cosmopolitan and diverse with the influx of new residents from all over the world. I love his dialect videos, anyway, but I found those portions particularly interesting, because I’ve seen some of those changes within my own lifetime.

          1. ReadingTheStoics*

            Seconding Eric Singer’s videos. Really enjoyed the recent 3-parter where he tours the country with the help of others to summarize the entire “How Americans Sound” picture, including indigenous, Latinx, and African-American accents and dialects. I particularly liked the emphasis on why is it that accents sound similar in what you would think are very different places – had to do with settlement patterns.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      In my area of the US “you all” + “you guys” becomes the neutral “younz” not “y’all”
      Terrible but funny

      1. White Squirrel*

        This was my childhood in southern MO…then I moved to the PNW as a Tween and lost it because it was continually remarked upon.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      I picked up saying Y’all after living in the South for nearly a decade and I have kept it. It’s just so handy! I also can’t seem to shake the tendency to say “might could” but that’s another issue.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Tú y vosotoros.
      Tu et voi.
      Tu vosque.

      We could always dredge up thou and return it to its original role. Or supplant the plural you with y’all & y’inz as you suggest is always good…

      What’s old is new and what’s new is old.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        My North Carolinian bestie, when we were living together and she was taking Spanish, used to wander around the house practicing aloud to herself. My favorite was always “And then there’s vosotros, which is Spanish for y’all….”

        1. Merci Dee*

          I took Spanish for a couple of years in high school, and the books taught the verb conjugations for “yo”, “tu”, “el/ella/usted”, “nosotros”, “vosotros”, and “ellos/ellas/ustedes” — so, all of the six basic verb forms. But I started using a language app over a year ago to re-learn some Spanish because it had been so long since I’d used it, and they don’t teach the conjugations for “vosotros” on the app. The information on the app suggests that most of the Central and South American Spanish-speaking countries have moved away from “vosotros” over the years in favor of “ustedes”, and that Spain is one of the few Spanish-speaking countries that has held on to “vosotros”. I didn’t do any research to verify that information, but I thought it was interesting when I read it. Another example of how language just keeps evolving right in front of us. :)

          1. Spotted Kitty*

            When I took Spanish in highschool (95-99ish), we did not learn the vosotros form. When I went to college, I had to suddenly learn it. My college Spanish teacher taught us ‘Spain’ Spanish and informed me that I must have had a high school teacher teaching us ‘Mexican’ Spanish.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              My college Spanish teacher taught us ‘Spain’ Spanish and informed me that I must have had a high school teacher teaching us ‘Mexican’ Spanish.

              That was my experience as well. I had to make an effort above and beyond to learn Peninsular Spanish, but it paid off when visiting Spain and continuing learning the language into my college years, until scheduling forced me to drop it.

              I still find Peninsular Spanish music a treat.

            2. allathian*

              Yup, I was taught Spanish as spoken in Spain, with vosotros. But most of my teachers in college were from Latin America, and they emphasized the difference.

          2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            The information on the app suggests that most of the Central and South American Spanish-speaking countries have moved away from “vosotros” over the years in favor of “ustedes”, and that Spain is one of the few Spanish-speaking countries that has held on to “vosotros”.

            That’s all true–my Spanish is intentionally old world–and beyond that, there are regions of Latin America where vosotros has been shorted (back) to vos and has supplanted tu.

            Spanish pronouns & conjugations are fun!

            1. Merci Dee*

              Language never stands still, does it? It’s amazing to see how fast the changes can come.

        2. Ally McBeal*

          Having taken all my Spanish courses in North Carolina, I am MIGHTILY disappointed that none of my teachers made the vosotros/y’all connection, it would have made things a bit easier.

    5. Courageous cat*

      Not you acting like we really have more racism and sexism than the rest of the country, though. The north doesn’t get a pass. I think it’s time we work on dispelling these overgeneralizations.

    6. Tupac Coachella*

      As a person of color in an area of the US largely…not of color, switching from “you guys” to “y’all” has been fraught. It’s still definitely racially coded here. I have to really know my audience. IME it’s considered charming and cute when white people use it, but unprofessional and and a sign of poor education when a black person says it. I reeeally have to know my audience. It’s still worth the effort to drop gendered language, and I haven’t found a suitable alternative yet, but it’s not a wholly uncomplicated swap.

      1. ReadingTheStoics*

        In the 90’s I was publicly ridiculed by a professional juror for my pronunciation of “masonry” while I was an architecture student at Georgia Tech. I’m really quite sure I only used 3 syllables rather than 4, though that can be so common in many places, not just the South.

        I happened to be wearing a country sort of outfit, not the all-black-designer uniform, and I think that gave him the idea he could bully me in that direction. “Do you not have something to say about my project rather than my elocution?” So annoying, that impulse that people feel to bash off the edges that they feel don’t comply to their vision of what you should be. I know now that he probably was there because he didn’t have paying work to do that day, so it’s insecurity, but still so unprofessional.

    7. Marillenbaum*

      Was it heightened, or are you just blithely unaware of how the sexism and racism presents in your culture of origin?

  5. meyer lemon*

    This seems to still be weirdly common in publishing, despite the fact that most publishing companies are mostly staffed by women. I get one of these emails every few months, and I always imagine a man in a frock coat and mutton chops on the other end.

    1. Nicotene*

      That is crazy. I have *never* seen “Dear Sirs” for a gender neutral address. I was told a few years ago that using “Dear Sir/Madam” was far too outdated to use any more on my cover letters.

      1. Ashley*

        I thought for the unknown reader the To Whom It May Concern was always good because of this though for a cover letter if I don’t have a person’s name, I guess dear hiring manager?

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          I think To Whom It May Concern is a bit too stuffy for most of 2021 America. I’d still use it in Europe.

        2. Nicotene*

          Yeah I feel like “TWIMC” is actually more clunky than Dear Sir/Madam honestly. I just dropped a salutation on the cover letter personally and launched in.

          1. Willis*

            I think that’s a fine approach. Dear Hiring Manager also works. I’ve received cover letters with TWIMC and Dear Sir/Madam and don’t think too much about it, but just Dear Sir would definitely catch my attention in a bad way.

        3. Elenna*

          I use “Dear Hiring Manager”. I’d be fine with “to whom it may concern”, certainly I’d prefer it to “dear sir” or even “dear sir/madam”, but it definitely does sound a bit over-formal.

        4. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          I use “Dear [Company] Leadership Team” since it’s almost guaranteed there will be a committee looking at my materials, not just the hiring manager.

        5. Ana Gram*

          I recently got a To Whom it May Concern email and it was so odd. It was in response to an email I had sent this person so…it concerns me? And no one else? And my name is on my email and in the signature so why not use it? Very peculiar.

          1. allathian*

            That’s certainly odd! I could see it in a formal setting when you don’t know the name of the person you’re addressing.

    2. roll-bringer*

      I man a public-facing customer service inbox and whenever someone addresses their query to Dear Sirs I say a little prayer that they never get published by even the smallest vanity press.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Where I worked, we said “Buttercup and Slumpkins staffed the front desk yesterday.” The manager thought (and rightly so) that use of “manning” should be obsolete – and this was about twenty years ago.

        1. No Tribble At All*

          You’ll notice NASA has moved away from “manned missions” to “crewed missions.” A little awkward to say out loud the first few times, but yes, crew and staff are much better verbs than “man.” Plus, you avoid the grossness of having to say “the desk is unmanned.”

          1. Roeschtabong*

            I heard this as “crude missions” the first time I heard it. It took me a minute to realize what was actually said.

            1. roll-bringer*

              “crude missions” are what the “dear sirs” are up to

              (also check me using a gendered verb while griping about gendered greetings. language is a constant bag of yikes!)

    3. Lacey*

      That’s kinda of hilarious, but also annoying I’m sure. My mom taught me to address things like “To Whom It May Concern” and that feels awkwardly old-fashioned to me.

      1. A penguin!*

        I’m trying to decide if my next batch of cover letters should start “Greetings fellow human,”.

        Probably not, but to me it’s fun to think on.

          1. Lynn*

            How about “Greetings Starfighter.”
            https://youtu.be/5KVBEUMRwG8
            May the luck of the Seven Pillars of Bulu be with you at all times! :>

            Seriously-I tend to go with the “Good afternoon all” or “Hello everyone.” I actually like “To Whom it May Concern,” but agree that it feels a little overformal these days (even to me, and I LIKE formal), so I don’t use it much anymore. And I would love it if “Greetings, fellow human” would catch on.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, but at least it’s accurate and avoids gender altogether. I still say it. Or “dear all,” which sounds stupid to me but is so formally correct that I don’t get in trouble for saying it.

        1. meyer lemon*

          I normally say “Good morning/afternoon” for a semi-formal email to persons unknown.

          1. Elenna*

            Oh, that might be a good idea. For cover letters (pretty much the only formal letters I’ve ever written), I use “dear hiring manager”, otherwise for general emails I just use “Hi [name]/[name]” for one or two people, and just “Hi” for groups. But “Good morning/afternoon” seems good for a slightly higher level of formality.

      3. meyer lemon*

        It’s so flagrantly out of touch that it’s not even annoying. It just makes the sender sound ridiculous.

    4. I need tea*

      Also in law, at least in the UK. Default is “Dear Sirs” to an organisation or unknown recipient and “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam” for an individual (or first name and surname, or title initial and surname, depending on the amount of info known about the recipient including their preference). It’s certianly outdated, but it’s also utterly ubiquitous – every firm (of a range of specialisms and sizes) that I’ve worked with uses this as the default. I’d say it’s industry standard and addressing conventions are in every house style guide. Individuals might push against it but to my knowledge not many firms are – I agree it’s outdated and sexist, but I don’t think much of the legal industry got that memo.

      1. Amey*

        I was coming to add this. My husband is a UK lawyer and I was shocked to discover that this is ubiquitous in the field. In my work, I have to write covering letters for clients in a legally adjacent field and ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is absolutely the convention in my area. The UK is, in my experience, much more old-fashioned and ‘traditional’ in correspondence than the US (where I grew up). Titles are still used in correspondence (and asked for on every online purchase you make) and Ms isn’t in the common usage that it was already in the US 20 years ago when I lived there.

      2. Emma2*

        There was a campaign across UK law firms in 2016 to eliminate the use of “Dear Sirs”. You will find that many or most the largest city firms in London have removed this language (eg Freshfields, Clifford Chance). The Law Society also removed the use of “Dear Sirs” in 2020. The preferred form now is “Dear Sir or Madam”.

      3. Lemon Squeeziee*

        This was burned in to my brain when I first starting working at a solicitors firm. I got a ten minute lecture from one of the partners for using “Yours sincerely” instead of “Yours faithfully” when drafting a letter for her, because it would have been much too informal as I didn’t know their name.
        The letters always went “Dear Sirs, xxx Yours faithfully” or “Dear Title Surname, xxx Yours sincerely”.

        That was years ago and I STILL have to fight the urge to use Dear Sirs when addressing a letter to a business or firm where I don’t have a contact name.

        1. armchairexpert*

          In Australian law school I did not learn ‘Dear Sirs’, but I definitely learned ‘yours faithfully’ is for when you’re addressing someone by name and ‘yours sincerely’ is used when you use a ‘Dear Sir’ etc.

          I think we learned the appropriate option if you don’t know was ‘DEar Sir or Madam’.

  6. Lonely Bat*

    I’ve started using “folks” a lot instead of “guys.” Seems to work pretty well since it’s both gender neutral and doesn’t assume anything the way “ladies and gentlemen” could be seen as excluding nonbinary folks.

    1. nonbinary writer*

      If you need to use something formal in a public address, I really vibe with “Ladies, gentlemen, and friends beyond the binary” ;)

      1. Lonely Bat*

        This just reminds me that we don’t have a good business term that can be subbed in for “friends” that isn’t as stuffy as “colleagues” because saying “Hi Friends” has the vibe I’m going for but is too personal for work.

        1. Lesley McCullough*

          I use colleagues all the time and if I don’t want it to be stuffy, I say “beloved colleagues” or “hard working colleagues”. ANd after a while, plain colleagues doesn’t sound that stuffy.

      2. No Tribble At All*

        I once heard “ladies, gentlemen, and esteemed guests” interpreted as we only have esteem for nonbinary people ;)

  7. The Original K.*

    My go-to is “all” or “everyone” for groups of three or more (one or two and I just use names. “Dear Jack and Jill …”).
    But defaulting to “sirs” isn’t something I’d ever do, even when addressing a group of men. It reads as very antiquated to me – the “dear sir/madam” days are gone.

    1. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

      Mine as well. When writing emails, I just open with Hi All. It’s gender neutral, professional, and inclusive of everyone. When I’m speaking, I default to the y’all or all y’all for the same reason. Because I work with people all around the world, I use they/them pronouns by default as I don’t necessarily know gender/pronoun preferences and don’t want to assume. If I’m addressing a specific person and I’m aware of their preferences, I do use them.

    2. pretzelgirl*

      I do this as well. “Good Morning all, Good Morning Everyone”. Sometimes I just leave off the “all” and everyone” and just go with a plain “Good Morning”.

    3. Amey*

      Yes, me too. ‘Hi all’ or ‘Hi everyone’ or occasionally ‘, ‘Hi team’. All of that is fine in relatively casual internal business correspondence in my field in the UK – anything external would definitely be ‘Dear _________’. I do think UK culture (or UK higher education anyway which is my industry) is much more formal in correspondence than seems to be the case in the US. Some of these examples (e.g ‘Hi folks’) would sound weird here, I think.

      1. UKDancer*

        I am also in the UK and do the same. I use “hi all” or “hello everyone” and that works fine for most cases.

  8. IndustriousLabRat*

    I like:
    “Good afternoon, Team! I have a status update on…”
    “Hello everyone, I wanted to bring to your attention that…”
    “Hi all, just a quick reminder to…”
    “Thanks for your help, and Y’all have a great weekend!”
    It has become a comfortable convention for addressing group emails and seems totally natural, even for this little Lab Rat who was taught decades ago in school to use “Dear Sirs”… and has grown to find it squicky for all the reasons Alison mentioned above.

    1. Wine Not Whine*

      I tend to use “Hello, everyone” or “Greetings, all;” or “Good morning/afternoon/evening” if I’m trying to be a bit more formal. “Y’all” feels excessively informal and bordering on fake.

      And if I’m referring collectively to elected representatives: Congress-critters.

      1. Nicotene*

        Yes, I understand “y’all” as a gender-neutral substitute but it is certainly very casual; I’ve had good luck with just dropping the subject of the solicitation altogether and going for “Good morning” or whatever.

    2. Lacey*

      Yes, “Hello Everyone” seems like a very natural greeting. I don’t care for “ya’ll” or “folks” but “Hello Everyone” is perfectly serviceable and friendly language.

    3. Mid-Atlantic*

      Thank you, I have been skimming all the comments just to find out if someone else uses “team”!

      I’m a big fan of “hey team”, “hello team” wherever applicable. Sometimes when it’s not, I might even say “hello MyTeamName and OtherTeamName”, but failing that I also use the other options you’ve listed.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, there are literally dozens of ways to address groups without resorting to exclusionary language.

  9. Cobol*

    That was an easy answer, but there’s an even easier one. If somebody asks you b to stop doing something, stop doing it.
    Even if you’re only offending one member of your leadership team, you’re offending one member of your leadership team. Why would you want to do that? (And yes, usually when one person brings up something like this, they’re are actually many more who have the same opinion.)

    1. Allypopx*

      Thank you. This doesn’t have to be a huge debate, and the fact someone is pushing back on something that makes someone uncomfortable is kind of gross.

    2. Aquawoman*

      Right, and the corollary–the person who has no reason to personally feel alienated by it (i.e. the male colleague) doesn’t get a say in whether it feels alienating to the person who does have reason to feel alienated by it.

    3. Julia*

      A decent general policy, but I think not always applicable – we had a letter a while back from someone whose manager got offended that they said “Hi X” instead of “Dear X” to a client in an email conversation. Some people just have whacked-out professional norms and you do have to use a dose of your own judgment.

      When the issue touches sexism or racism, and the person you’re talking to is in a better position than you to understand why something might grate on the ears, there should be a heavy presumption in favor of just listening to them. But a presumption, not an absolute rule.

    4. OP*

      I agree! And unfortunately the offending person has been told time and time again that they cannot address emails that way, and they refuse to change. Its definitely a problem.

      1. Allypopx*

        This may come off snarky in writing I am being genuine – you said this was the military right? Isn’t…doing what you’re told or following instructions a huge thing in the military? Is it odd he’s not listening?

        1. OP*

          In this case he is a civilian employee who has worked in the organization for almost as long as I have been alive. Practically untouchable is simplifying things a bit with this individual.

      2. Malarkey01*

        It may not worked, but years ago I worked with someone who insisted on addressing women by either Mrs. or Girls. What finally made him change was someone was trying for the hundredth time to explain why those were rude and within his hearing I said “Don’t bother, Bob is just old and completely out of touch and doesn’t care who knows how irrelevant he has become”. Never ever heard him say it again- he liked the argument and being obstinate, as soon as it changed to being an object of scorn his own embarrassment stopped it.

        (That said I in no way would ever call someone old or irrelevant in the office nor think the two are connected but a few years of sexist belittling justified it for me this time)

  10. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    Yea literally the only time I get called ma’am is when a kid is talking. Like me: Can you pick up the crayons? Kid: Yes Parent: You mean yes ma’am!

    1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      Ew. My parents never made us use ma’am or sir. Nor did any of my teachers, and I grew up in the 50s and 60s. Children shouldn’t be made to feel subservient.

      1. Louise*

        It’s even worse when you watch the current generation be forced into this by their grandparents and parents. I will say the ma’am / sir comes out when I am mad, curt, and generally scared. It worked well when I got pulled over once and the manners started flowing – I still got a ticket but the cop did say I was polite to the judge when I asked for mercy on the costs.

      2. Mental Lentil*

        Exactly this. It’s a family, not a military unit. We’ve all see The Great Santini, right?

      3. alienor*

        When I was growing up in the 80s, I had a friend whose parents required her and her siblings to address them as ma’am and sir. They were a very traditional Catholic family with 9 or 10 kids and I think the dad had been in the military at some point in the past. I spent the night at their house a few times, and it was definitely an experience to see the mom ladling stew out of a giant cauldron and each child saying “thank you, ma’am” as they were served, or everyone lining up to say “good night, sir,” to the dad before going to bed.

      4. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        I’m not arguing with my clients to have them be free to be you and me parents when my goal is for the kids to be safe.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          Sorry for being so grumpy. In my area my zero tolerance for hitting your kids is weird enough

    2. PT*

      This is a terrible habit to teach kids. In at least half of the US this is going to read as sarcastic and insubordinate.

      You say “Yes ma’am” to a teacher in northeast, your ass is going to detention.

      1. Jane Anonusten*

        And the other half of the US could say it’s a terrible habit to *not* teach your kids (I said this downthread, but I grew up with adults also using sir/ma’am when referring to children so it’s about respect, not subservience). So maybe we can all agree to respect each other’s cultural norms.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        True story, my older son addressed his English teacher (who had a reputation of being very strict, and who was also a woman) as “man” for the entire 9th grade. He is on the spectrum and was lacking social skills at that point. He thought it was a polite way of addressing her, and we weren’t here to correct him; and only found out after the fact anyway. What was mystifying to me though, was that he’d never gotten in trouble for it. Asked her a couple of years later and she was surprised. She’d thought that he was addressing her as “ma’am” all the time. She was awed by his politeness at the time. We are in NE Ohio. I’ve been called ma’am by strangers since my early 30s.

      3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        They are Southerners. They just want the kids to sound respectful. I don’t care, but I’m not fighting against 60 years of conditioning when it doesn’t harm the kids.

    3. OP*

      To clarify (which I now realize i should had put in the letter) I work with the military, so Ma’am and Sir are the absolute minimum when talking to leadership, and seen as polite when talking to peers. It is seen as the norm to address emails are “Dear Sir/Ma’am” when talking to large groups of people, especially when some (but not all) outrank you.

      I will say that when I joined the organization it was a jolt when coworkers (all of whom have at least 10-15 years on me) addressed me as Ma’am. Its just the specific culture that I’ve had to grow used to.

    4. KaciHall*

      I call my kid Sir all the time. He, in return, calls me Sir no matter how many times I remind him girls and women are ma’am.

      Granted, I also decided sometime in college that my southern grandma who raised me to say Sir and Ma’am probably would’ve acknowledged that I no longer lived anywhere remotely southern and northerners are barbarians who don’t appreciate good manners and I could stop saying it (plus she was dead and she never liked that I wore pants instead of skirts to school, so she was a little outdated anyway.)

      1. Jane Anonusten*

        I was raised to say “sir” and “ma’am” to everyone regardless of their age. “Yes sir/ma’am?” was the response from my parents/grandparents/teachers/other adults when children asked them questions. It’s about respect, not subservience.

        I was also raised to hold the door for anyone who was immediately approaching a door I was already holding regardless of their gender, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        1. PeanutButter*

          Same thing for both the door and Sir/Ma’am. Especially if I’m addressing a tradesperson, one of my parents’ subordinates, or someone performing a service for me/our household, I was taught to address them as Sir/Ma’am to ensure they don’t feel like I’m being too familiar when the power imbalance might make them feel like they couldn’t rebuff that, while still expressing respect.

          The door was explained to me that SOMEONE has to go through first, and that whomever gets their first or has the least amount of items in their hands/small children they are wrangling is the person who holds the door.

          1. Coyote Tango*

            Truly the only time I really got blessed out by my mother was when I did not refer to the people who were serving us in some way as sir or ma’am.

  11. Batty Twerp*

    In the spirit of enquiry, what would be the alternative in a formal setting? I’m thinking of a letter to an external client when you don’t necessarily know the names of all involved. An email could start “Good morning”, but a letter conventionally starts “Dear….”
    Dear Sirs and or Madams, is just… no!

    (For the record, I’m in the UK, so y’all is not a standard part of my lexicon although I personally love it!)

    1. emmaline*

      Use the collective reason they are being addressed:
      -dear executive team
      -dear regional managers
      -dear search committee
      -dear task force
      etc.

      1. Union Maid*

        the times I see an email which uses ‘dear Sir’ or even ‘dear Madam’ is when it comes from someone who is not a native English speaker. I am in the UK, and the more formal greetings often come from those who have inherited an education system influenced by the former British Empire.
        I cut this a lot more slack. The relationship between the formerly colonially oppressed and and current culture is pretty fraught. I am a transplanted US citizen so my role is even less clear.

    2. Bubbeleh*

      Someone mentioned “colleagues”. It’s more formal than “all” or “folks” — I think it will be my default for more formal correspondence.

      (I’m originally from Pittsburgh…and we use yinz. You can’t use it anywhere else on the planet, because no one has heard it unless they’re from SW PA, but it is gender neutral.)

      1. theothermadeline*

        As a Kentuckian it took me a while after childhood that other people didn’t use the phrase “your alls’s”

        1. Student Affairs Sally*

          Fellow Kentuckian here, and I say “your alls’s” all the time! Also nothing makes me cringe harder than someone pronouncing my hometown (Louisville) “correctly”, because the “correct” way is wrong! It’s Loo-uh-vul, NOT “Loo-ee-ville”. I’ve left KY but I work in higher education, and people often refer to Louisville in conversations about college sports and it makes my teeth itch every time. Last year my former colleagues were going to a conference in Louisville and I had to give them “lessons” (in good fun) about how to say it right so that they wouldn’t drive me nuts OR immediately out themselves as tourists when procuring a Hot Brown.

          1. Hiding from my Boss*

            Ha! Driving up Vermont Avenue in Hollywood once I saw a bumper sticker that read “It’s Loo-UH-ville, not Looeyville!” It’s been a while, but I believe the car had California plates.

            In my growing-up area, we used “you all” or “y’all” when referring to a group, so I once explained to a native Californian that “you all” is the plural of “you.”

      2. Brooklyn*

        I’m originally from NJ. I had to transition from “Youse” to “Yall” in college. I definitely now use both in emails, but I work in an industry where performative informality is formally required.

      3. LinesInTheSand*

        I use yinz in the Bay Area and I’m not sorry. Also ‘yous’ (the Jersey version).

      4. TiffIf*

        Second person plurals are fun–because there is no unique second person plural in the current English lexicon, different dialects have adopted different terms to fill the lexical gap: “y’all” “yinz” “youenses” “yous” etc. English has yet to settle on one as standard. I think “y’all” might be the one that is most widely understood, at least in the US, but it isn’t seen as fully standard or formal enough.

      5. LCH*

        i love that yinz exists. sometimes i think it in my head, but i never say it because it would not sound natural on me.

      6. Beany*

        “Colleagues” implies that you know/work with these people, or are in the same organization. If I was cold-mailing unknown people in an unfamiliar organization, I’d want a different solution.

        In Irish, I seem to remember the formal way of addressing unknown people is “a dhuine uasal” (sing.) or “a dhaoine uasail” (plu.), where “duine/daoine” means “person/people”. Google Translate says this is “gentleman/gentlemen”, but to my knowledge it’s gender-neutral.

      7. PeanutButter*

        I have family from Pittsburgh and I use yinz all the time. Folks pick up what it means pretty quickly.

        1. PeanutButter*

          Should be: “family from Pittsburgh but have never lived anywhere close to SW PA”

    3. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      I’d go with “Dear Team”, most likely. O
      For *really* formal settings, I’ll bust out “To Whom It May Concern”, but that feels a little offputting for a client.

      1. Smithy*

        You could also perhaps dress up Dear Team as either Leadership or Executive Team, which nods to their seniority and is more specific. Thinking of how a Board of Directors might be addressed – with something like Dear Esteemed Directors. Likely too formal for a lot of communication, but in cases where you’re looking up how to address a former Ambassador – could work.

    4. Legal Beagal*

      For formal legal correspondence (e.g. demand letters), we use “Dear Sirs/Mesdames” to include both genders.

      1. Rach*

        Oof, there are more than 2 genders. I’m curious how you address someone who is non-binary?

    5. Grits McGee*

      One of the offices at my org answers a lot of questions from the public, and if the question-asker doesn’t give a title, they will respond with the full given name. So, “Dear Alex Smith” or “Dear Beatles_Fan_1965”. Not elegant, but still formal!

      1. TWW*

        Dear Grits McGee,

        I’ve been doing that for years, and I don’t think it’s the least bit inelegant.

    6. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Also UK, and I agree that “Good morning” is enough without having to navigate Sirs or a modern equivalent. It’s not fantastic, but it’s grammatical and a suitable level of formality. “Dear All” or “Dear Colleagues” would also be fine.

      “Good morning Sirs” sounds like the execrable not-quite-English I get in unsolicited sales emails – the emails that go straight to Clutter or Junk.

      As always, law is an odd field, so I very commonly receive mail addressed “Dear Sirs” even when it’s partway through a project and they’ve also put Attn: Mrs G V Klinkerhoffen at the top of an email sent to gvklinkerhoffen(at)lawfirm(dot)com. I don’t love it, and I don’t do it, but I am now used to it.

    7. Lyra Silvertongue*

      If it’s necessary to be really formal and you don’t really know the people involved, I would just go with “To whom it may concern,” or “Dear [Company] team,” or “Dear [Company] [relevant department].”

      1. Batty Twerp*

        Ooh “Dear [Company] [relevant department]”!
        I like that one!
        Thanks y’all! (or is it all y’all – that’s a new one I’ve only just seen in the comments and now I’m confused!)

        1. Amey*

          Yes, I do this if I don’t have a specific contact (also UK). I address it to the team at least if possible. ‘Dear [Specific] Team,’ etc

        2. Indigo a la mode*

          As someone who receives a lot of unsolicited email, salutations like “Dear Marketing Manager” or “Dear [Company] Marketing Team” get an email immediately mentally filed as junk.

          1. Lyra Silvertongue*

            Well… Yes, because it’s marketing, and presumably you get added to a ton of PR lists. But we’re not talking about unsolicited email in this respect. As someone in media, I get a lot of unsolicited email that addresses me by name, but it’s not the greeting that makes me junk it, it’s the content.

        3. Slipping The Leash*

          Any old friend of mine from somewhere swampy in Florida used to use “all y’alls” – which I (a New Englander) very much liked. He also got a lot of mileage out of calling unpleasant people “dill-holes.” I’m not sure what that meant, but it definitely stopped people in their tracks.

    8. TechWorker*

      A medium formality version I use a lot is simply ‘Dear all’ – makes sense, includes everyone, doesn’t make me feel like I’m trying to be American. Tick tick tick ;)

  12. Sami*

    Completely agree about “you guys”. Many MANY of my fellow teachers use it, but I don’t. I read about it being problematic at the beginning of my career and just don’t use it. I generally say “folks” or “y’all” or even “boys and girls”- just to get a laugh- I teach 8th grade.

    1. M*

      My husband is a therapist who runs support groups for trans/nb/gnc youth and they use ‘Guys and Gals and Nonbinary pals’ and although I wouldn’t use it at work, I think about it every time I am starting an email to colleagues (hello all) or beginning my class (good morning, scholars).

      1. pretzelgirl*

        I follow a couple of tik-tokers that use this. Though they say “Non-Binary Pearls”. For some reason I love it, lol!

    2. IGoOnAnonAnonAnon*

      A teacher I know calls her pupils “friends”: “OK, friends, now we’ll go to the rug for circle!” “Friends, it’s time to go outside!”
      She teaches 3-4 year olds, and I think it’s a lovely thought to instill that they are all friends, learning together.

  13. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    For once being Southern/working in a Southern state is actually a plus in this situation, because y’all is pretty much always okay (unless dealing with our owners in Italy, then it’s formal)
    A quick guide to using y’all for those of you not familiar:
    y’all – a group of 2 people or a specific team/family
    all y’all – addresses a larger group. Usually used for groups with multiple segmentations.
    Ex: Addressing my team of Sales people who I work with daily: Y’all
    Ex: Addressing the 4 teams who report up to my Exec: All y’all

    1. LBugging*

      Unless you’re sternly addressing a group of children, as in “All y’all best get your butts in gear and clean up this yard before dinner!” ;)

      Gosh, it’s been over a year since I’ve heard anyone try to round up a group of kids. I can’t wait until this pandemic is over. *sigh*

    2. Taylor*

      Ooooh no “all y’all” is reserved for when you’re a little PO’d hahaha like “all y’all better listen up because I’m not gonna say this again!”

      1. biobotb*

        Must be regional. My Southern friends often use it to address a larger group without any rancor.

    3. Happy*

      This is interesting to me. I’m a native Southern speaker who uses y’all in my regular speech (including in emails), but it sounds awkward to me to put it in a salutation. I tend to say, “Hello, team” or “Good morning, all.”

  14. Dasein9*

    Dear Team,
    Dear Colleagues,
    Hey Folks,
    Thank y’all so much for. . .
    Hello, Ashley, Evelyn, Perry, Jude, and Cameron. . . . [Their actual names, not this list, obviously. (I hope.)]

  15. RKMK*

    In 2006 – 2006! – I worked for an MBA recruitment and admissions at a major university, and we would get emails and applications addressed “Dear Sirs.”

    There was not a single man on the team of 10, from admin to director. Not one.

    Those applicants were not considered for admission. (Not only for this; the inattentive salutation correlated with shoddy applications, but in the few cases where an application ever came close, the applicant who didn’t use outdated and sexist greetings beat the one who did, as it spoke to being more in tune with modern/professional work environments.)

    1. Cj*

      I doubt they are using “Sir” in their everyday language and therefore thought it was appropriate. Somebody in the college career center (maybe even your university) probably taught them that is what they should use.

      1. Student*

        Students in college have enough critical thinking skills to recognize that ~50% of the people in the world are women, so if they don’t know the hiring manager there’s a pretty decent chance that “Sir” won’t apply. Even if the college career center tells them to use “sir”. You don’t need to make up excuses for them. They made the sexist assumption that the people in charge would be men and acted upon it. They are adults, and don’t need to be bubble-wrapped to protect and excuse them from the obvious consequences of their obvious sexism and lack of attention to detail.

  16. MegPie*

    I’d go farther and say let’s not us Sir at all unless you’re also saying Ma’am to women.

    1. Gan Ainm*

      Yep. And if someone wants to die on the hill that “sir” is somehow gender neutral, then madame must be as well so all mixed groups are hereby addressed as madames.

    1. Jessica*

      Right on! My standard opener on emails to my team used to be “Ladies,” but it’s just chance that I have an all-female crew, so I’ve been thinking lately I should go ahead and develop a new habit. (To be clear, I don’t see anything wrong with Ladies when you are actually addressing a specific group of all women.) Anyway, I’ve been shifting to “Comrades,” and I love that so I think it’s here to stay.

      1. PeanutButter*

        At a previous job I admit I always greeted the does (female goats) lined up to go into the milking shed in the morning as “Ladies.” (“Good morning, ladies! Today our breakfast special is pellets and sweet corn, with a supplement garnish. No shoving in line. Ms. Buttercup, please refrain from unnecessary kicking today, or we will have another discussion with HR. Thank you.”)

        I’m really glad I worked alone on the morning shift because I was pretty punchy at 0430 and thought I was hilaaaaarious but really I just sounded ridiculous. XD

        1. Jessica*

          I think you were definitely hilarious, and I dispute the implication that this is mutually exclusive with being ridiculous.

  17. Reality Check*

    I live in the South, and we do often address each other (in person) as Sir and Ma’am. Not every single time, but I do hear and use it daily. (email & writing, no)

    1. TinyChef*

      I was going to make a similar comment. I am from Texas and was heavily raised to call any person older than me sir/ma’am or even Miss. It is SO hard for me to not refer to people older than me as sir or Miss So & so.

      1. pbnj*

        Also southern and I use ma’am even if they are younger than me. Sir I use very rarely. Not sure why that is.

      2. 3DogNight*

        We got into the weeds about this in a work call the other day. I, too, am in TX. I have only had younger people (I’m 48, so not ancient) call me ma’am. It feels ageist to me. I was taught to call all older people sir and ma’am, so it’s not a sign of respect, it’s a sign of age. Once it was said in that way, the rest of the team was like “Oh, yeah, I guess it is.” I would certainly like to see it go!

    2. Metadata minion*

      Have you seen any nonbinary equivalents emerge? English really needs a neutral honorific and there just isn’t one that isn’t also tied to a profession (Doctor, Rabbi, etc.).

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        I haven’t, which is a problem. When I lived in the South, I worked at a very conservative area and we had a lot of older patrons at our library who would get upset if they were not addressed as “Sir” or “Ma’am” by our staff. To the point where, I fielded a complaint or two about how disrespectful our staff was. I never could find or learn a good gender neutral option. So, I told my students who worked the front desk to do the best they could and try not to fret to much about it. I still don’t know the solution given how common “Sir” and “Ma’am” remain in that part of the world. I don’t know if things have changed in the last few years.

  18. emmaline*

    “Dear sirs” was outdated a quarter century ago. Did this office just thaw out from being frozen in time?

    1. PollyQ*

      I’d say it’s more like 50 years ago. 2nd wave feminism & women entering the workforce in large numbers were already underway in 1971, and Alison is right that it’s ridiculously formal to boot.

      1. Elephant*

        This seems like a pretty critical piece of information since using “sir” or “ma’am” is expected in the military. I still think it’s wrong to write “Dear sirs” rather than “Dear Sirs and Ma’am’s,” but knowing this is taking place within the military means it makes a lot more sense to use sir or ma’am in the first place.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        Oh, yes, this is very relevant information! Dear Sirs & Ma’ams? I’m not in the military, so I’m not sure how female officers are addressed.
        Just as academia is an entirely different beast from corporate life and the nonprofit world, the military has so many of its own conventions that it must be mentioned in the letter to get an accurate answer.

        1. OP*

          I see that now! Honestly I emailed on a lark, never expecting a reply so I’m trying to rectify it as best i can. Lesson learned!

        2. Elephant*

          Women in the military are called “ma’am.” Which makes it all the more problematic to say “sirs” when everyone would know to call women “ma’am” and you should know your own leadership enough to know there is a woman on the team. Also, they have a digital system where you can look people up, so it’s extra weird to me to not just put in the work and realize “oh yea this team of four Lt Cols is three guys and a gal, I will write “Dear sirs and ma’am” of course.” That one guy is wrong; this is not the same as saying “you guys” because the entire point of saying “sir” in the military to show respect and apply professional norms. It is neither respectful not professional normal to call a woman in the military “sir.”

          1. Elephant*

            Sorry, this was meant as a reply to New Jack Karyn, not OP! Glad you got an answer tho!

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I would guess that saying, “Yes, Major Benitez. No, Major Benitez. Right away, Major Benitez,” would get old pretty quickly. Any time you would call a male superior officer Sir, it’s appropriate to call a female superior officer Ma’am (according to Elephant, above).

            And this is all in the context of a group email, in which the recipients might be of different ranks. So “Dear Colonels,” wouldn’t work either.

    2. Alianora*

      I’ve noticed I tend to get this from foreign companies more often. India particularly. It’s a little strange, but I figure it must be standard convention over there.

  19. ManBearPig*

    Hailing from the southeast I can tell you from experience that many, many people use ma’am on an individual basis

    1. Allypopx*

      But would they address an email to “Sirs” or “Sirs and Madames” or “Madames” if they didn’t know the exact makeup of a group?

      1. ManBearPig*

        No, but “gentlemen” and “ladies” are both common when the group is known (or assumed). I’m not saying it’s the best thing for inclusivity, but the tradition of the south beats it into just about everybody down here that you use sir, ma’am, gentlemen, and ladies as a sign of respect

        1. ManBearPig*

          I’ve always had it drilled into me that “y’all” is unprofessional, and also makes people not from the south think you’re a backwoods yokel. Gotta love those stereotypes about level of intelligence associated with anything Southern

  20. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    Yes, that’s offensive. I don’t mind someone addressing one man as “sir,” as in “Yes, sir.” I had a friend who would address a clearly mixed-gender group as “guys” and I would always call him out on it. He would insist he used it generically, and I would say it’s not generic so stop it.

    1. Skates*

      I am a woman from the NYC metro area and I have been trying for a decade to work the collective “guys” out of my vocabulary but I still slip up sometimes. To be fair, I use it with groups that are entirely women just as readily as mixed gender groups. It’s just part of my language dna

    2. Wisteria*

      If your friend is a straight guy, ask him how many guys he has slept with (or dated, if “slept with“ is too direct for your friendship). That should drive the point home.

  21. I AM a lawyer.*

    I’m really working on not saying “you guys” anymore, but it is a tough habit to break.

    1. Bubbeleh*

      Same. And I’m pretty hardcore about being inclusive in general, so my inability to break this drives me nuts! (I’ll keep working!)

      (I blame Electric Company, which always started “HEY YOU GUYS!”)

      1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        Ha, you beat me to it. I was going to say “Hey, you guys” is always perfectly acceptable if you’re Rita Moreno yelling it at the beginning of The Electric Company. : )

      2. Ms. Yvonne*

        Yes! It’s absolutely imprinted on my brain also by the Children’s Television Workshop.

        1. Bubbeleh*

          No, that’s
          ZOOM!
          Box 3-5-0
          Boston Mass
          0-2-1-3-4

          (Send it to Zoom!)

          (Now if only I could remember yesterday as well)

    2. Project Manager here*

      Same here! I am from and still live in a region that uses “you guys” very regularly. I don’t know if it’s more or less strange coming from me, since I am a women. But I have explained it new coworkers, especially non-US based, that it’s a very common phrase where I am from, and I don’t mean it to exclude anyone on the team. Sometimes I wish “yous” was tried more like “y’all”. While that would be an easy switch, it’s very very locally used and it tends to sound unprofessional.

    3. No Tribble At All*

      I unfortunately use both “guys” and “dude” as gender-neutral. Which means my stressed-out brain has more than once said something like “dude we finally got that data!” to my (female) boss.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I worked in an all-woman department, & we’d say stuff like that. Weird, but better than “Dudette.” (Which just makes me think of TMNT.)

    4. mrs whosit*

      Me too. Just before I read this article, I said “you guys” to address a group of young women — I really do use it neutrally for groups, but I don’t use it neutrally for individuals, as others have pointed out in the thread. I’m working to excise it entirely.

  22. CatCat*

    Just start addressing group emails to senior leadership as “Dear Madams” and see how that goes over.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Yep. It’s like when someone says “female doctor” or “female lawyer”. I will also start saying “male lawyer” or “male doctor” in response to them.

      A few of them cotton on. Most of them….don’t.

      1. Tisiphone*

        Many years ago a man I knew would refer to authors and authoresses. I noticed women whose books he enjoyed were authors. Authoresses were women whose books he didn’t enjoy. All men, whether he liked the book or not, were authors. I called him on it until he stopped doing it.

  23. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    I cannot tell you how much I hate gendered greetings. I hate them with the rage of a thousand dying suns. I quietly made it my mission to eliminate unnecessary gendered greetings in my workplace’s communications. I’ve largely succeeded. There is no faster way to be dismissed out of hand than someone who misters me in a group OR as an individual.

    1. Ground Control*

      I grew up with yinz! My parents are from central PA and didn’t want me using it because they thought it sounded uneducated, but it’s really the perfect fit for northerners who don’t want to use y’all.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        “Yinz” is pretty geographically narrow: essentially Pittsburgh and surrounding regions. “Youse” is more widespread, but dying. It was used in many northeastern cities, particularly those with large Irish immigrant populations. But at this point it has an affected air to it, outside of some old ethnic neighborhoods.

      2. Kelly L.*

        My grandmother said you’uns. I’m not totally sure where she got it, because it’s not local to us and I don’t know anyone else who uses it! I used to spend way too much mental energy as a kid trying to figure out how to spell it.

  24. Gingerblue*

    It usually seems a bit condescending to me. Not as poisonous as “ladies”, but on that end of the politeness continuum.

  25. Anon for this*

    My boss says guys. Occasionally he realizes I exist and says “and girls”. Sometimes he refers to my coworker and myself as “guys and girls” which is particularly funny since he’s technically saying each of us is multiple people.

    1. Lego Leia*

      I hate being referred to as a “girl” at work. I am not a child. I would rather be one of the “guys” then inherently childlike. FWIW, I have had to fight with myself to adopt calling myself and my friends “women” instead of “girls”. However, since we are working women, married, and have kids of our own, “girls” isn’t right anymore.

      1. Anon Lawyer*

        I think it’s fine for women to use “girls” for themselves and their friends if that’s what they want (not my personal favorite but I don’t care if one of my friends suggests a “girls’ night,” for instance). My issue is with it being imposed by others, which is patronizing – and it doesn’t belong at work for sure.

        1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          That’s what “gals” was used for, an informal alternative to using “women” but not demeaning like the use of “girls.” It’s the female equivalent of “guys.”

          1. Anon Lawyer*

            Yeah but “gals” has some weird connotations to me. Maybe it’s just me but it doesn’t sound . . . particularly respectful. Not that I’d be offended by it but I don’t hear it very often in real life and I wouldn’t be likely to use it.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              I actually dislike “gal” more than “girl.” But neither should be used in the workplace unless you’re discussing female humans under age 18.

          2. Broadway Duchess*

            “Gals” is not the best choice if we’re trying to use inclusive language. It has some demeaning connotations — it’s akin to Black men being called boy back in the day. Black women are not likely to respond well to being called gal.

            1. nonegiven*

              I thought gals went with guys, like ‘guys and gals’ (adults) the way people say ‘boys and girls’ for children.

              1. Broadway Duchess*

                Black women in subservient positions were called “gal” as in my servant gal. I’m sure it has innocuous connotations in white spaces, but it is helpful to remember that it isn’t the norm.

    2. Alcott*

      This still bothers me because “girls” are children and “guys” are adults. At the very least, go with “boys and girls” so it’s equally demeaning to all.

      1. Gan Ainm*

        Yes. Part of the issue is there isn’t a good, casual equivalent to guys for women unfortunately, gals is perhaps the closest but sounds odd, has a similarly demeaning feel and is not commonly used. I agree with the commenter above that I use girls in my personal life (girls night, girls weekend) but not at work. I wouldn’t say boys to my 50 year old male colleagues so its not appropriate to say girls either.

      2. Louise*

        I have had this conversation many times. You have to watch with boy / boys because of the racial history. I have started deadpanning about girls and child labor. When did company X starting hiring children? I though child labor was illegal?

    3. met_ocean*

      I can see the issue with Guys, and I’m trying to stop using it. But I HATE when a man adds ‘and girls’ when its a second thought. You messed up. No need to single out that I’m the only woman in the group. Right up there with older male coworkers apologizing for cursing in front of me (I work with retired sailors so they’re cursing in front of everyone…but only apologizing to me)

        1. NRG*

          Ugh and the cursing apology, yes I have been there. I told one team lead I’d fall to the floor covering my ears and shrieking if he kept doing that. I moved jobs right after, so I never implemented.

    4. AutolycusinExile*

      Oh, you might get a kick out of James Acaster’s standup bit about this. It’s a really funny dissection of what your boss is doing here!
      You can find it here: youtube[.]com/watch?v=Zt5qJC1xQ8A&ab

  26. Ground Control*

    I get annoyed when people address me or my team as sir/sirs in email, but I’d absolutely take the nuclear option if I knew someone had gotten feedback about how offensive the terms is and still chose to use it. I’m breaking myself of the “you guys” habit and using only gender neutral terms – you all, team, folks, etc.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      Yeah, that’s the heart of it!

      A generation of us were told as girls to get used to being called “guys” in this way, and now we are undoing that conditioning. Is it challenging? Sure, a bit. Is it worth doing? Also yes. Does it cost me anything? Nah.

      I will not hear the wounded-gazelle gambits of men who refuse to unlearn “dear sirs.” (Good heavens, if that’s the hardest thing someone’s ever been asked to do, what on earth is he doing in the workplace?)

  27. Richard Hershberger*

    The problem is that “Dear Sirs” fills, however inaptly, the need for a formal greeting to a group of persons collectively, or in the singular to a person whose name is unknown. The traditional greeting to an individual of unknown gender is “Dear Sir or Madam.” This mostly solves the sexism problem (Only mostly? Consider how odd “Dear Madam or Sir” sounds) but most decidedly not the problem of sounding like you are indulging in Victorian cosplay. The plural is even worse: “Dear Sirs and Mesdames.”

    If there is a solution to this problem, I don’t know it. All the suggested alternatives are decidedly informal. Informality has its place. Indeed, in modern society it has more places than does formality. But there still are times and places where formality is called for. These are rare enough that there hasn’t been a lot of pressure to solve the problem.

    1. OyHiOh*

      For formality, I frequently name the group I’m contacting: “dear board of directors,” “good morning llama wranglers” and similar. More words, but also, no assumption of gender.

    2. Theo*

      As someone who writes a lot of formal acceptance emails, “Dear. M(r, rs, s, x) So and So” works just fine. If it’s a group, “Good morning/afternoon/whatever. We are pleased…”

      1. Ashley*

        Though I have come to learn that while I will always use a Ms. if I was using a salutation to a woman, there are woman that find that incredibly offensive. I believe my martial status is no ones business if confuses me, but I still think it is a safer default then Mrs. unless I know their preference. And thank you for not suggesting Miss … that one always seemed a little creepy.

    3. CheeryO*

      To whom it may concern? Maybe not a perfect fit for all situations, but I’d rather see that than Dear Sirs.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I use that one a lot for business letters I’m throwing into the void (customer complaints and the like). If I have really no idea who might be reading the message, it works!

    4. Vertigo*

      But the main issue here IS the sexism. “Dear Sirs” isn’t any less stuffy than “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Sirs and Madames”. And honestly, “Dear Madam or Sir” isn’t really odd, just not the default expectation.

      As other people mentioned, “To Whom it May Concern” has the same level of both formality and weirdness. Formality is going to sound weird because it’s formal — we shouldn’t stick to something explicitly male-only just because it feels less weird, since the only reason it feels weird is because people made exlcuding women mainstream (and weren’t thinking of the concept of non-binary gender).

      We definitely need a neutral equivalent of “sir” (if for nothing else, to use in person to get a stranger’s attention), but that doesn’t mean we should just shrug our shoulders and use something outdated and sexist because we used it in the past and its familiar.

    5. Former Young Lady*

      I actually have gone out of my way to use “Dear Madam or Sir.” In my field, the person getting the letter is astronomically more likely to be a woman. Why do you think it sounds odd?

      1. Esmeralda*

        Convention. It’s like saying “pepper and salt” rather than “salt and pepper”. Or “go and stop” instead of “Stop and go.” No logical reason.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Fair point.

          Then again, Kraft Dinner marketed itself as “Cheese and Macaroni” for years, just to imply that its balance of ingredients set it apart from its competitors.

          1. Tisiphone*

            There’s a restaurant chain in my area that is “Grill and Bar” instead of “Bar and Grill”. I’ve gotten used to it being said either way.

    6. fhqwhgads*

      Dear Sirs,
      You simply must stop leaving your suits of armor blocking the thoroughfare. This simply will not do.

      /OnlyGoodUseOfDearSirsICanThinkOfRightNow

      1. Cj*

        I think it is. “Good Morning to all of You” would be OK, but “Dear all” sounds incomplete to me.

        1. TechWorker*

          I googled after writing this & think it might be slightly a US vs U.K. thing. ‘Dear all’ is pretty common in the U.K. and doesn’t read as incomplete to me at all.

        2. TechWorker*

          I googled after writing this & think it might be slightly a US vs U.K. thing. ‘Dear all’ is pretty common in the U.K. and doesn’t read as incomplete to me at all.

    7. Flora*

      I don’t think Sir or Madam is exceptionally inclusive, though, even besides the men-people-first arrangement. There exist individuals who (the parlance is ‘do not identify as,’ but I’m going to go with ‘are not’ on the basis that I’m told some such peeps are not thrilled to have their selfness made into identity) are not a mister or a miss(us). I imagine for the same reason that I, Flora, feel unhappy when I get an email addressed to “Flour” because the person sending it didn’t manage to get my name right, persons who are neither a Sir nor a Madam feel unhappy with that greeting.

    8. Anomalous*

      “Dear Sir or Madam” always makes me want to sing:

      “Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
      “It took me years to write, will you take a look?
      “It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear
      “And I need a job
      “So I wanna be a paperback writer.”

    9. LutherstadtWittenberg*

      It does no such thing. You’re making excuses for its continued usage. Coming up with a solution of different words is easy. Not being stupid and sexist with words? Also easy.

  28. HailRobonia*

    It does sound extremely dated, especially in the US. In my area of work (continuing education) we get customers from all over the world and I feel we get a lot of “Dear Sirs” inquiries from British Commonwealth nations (India, Pakistan, etc.)

    1. LDF*

      Yeah, it’s so wildly dated in the US that I’d immediately assume the writer is not a native speaker of American English. (Which doesn’t mean it’s ok to keep doing it after being told it’s sexist, ofc.)

    2. Brett*

      I was coming here to say this. My Indian and Nepalese colleagues use “Sir” routinely (and for managers of all genders).

    3. Roci*

      Yes, I’m surprised no one has brought this up sooner. I see a great deal of use from writers in Southeast Asia, and wouldn’t be surprised if it was common in other Englishes around the world.

    4. Marillenbaum*

      I get a lot of them in Bangladesh, but that’s because Bangla, like a lot of other South Asian languages, does not have a gendered third-person plural; the distinctions are instead made on degree of formality. Add in a Western name, and someone who has not met me in person before will usually default to “sir”.

  29. MaureenSmith*

    Depends on the audience. When dealing with international clients, some expect “Dear Sir” regardless of gender as they have been taught that is the respectful written greeting. Working in a male-dominated field internationally, I have to accept that they were taught to use “Dear Sir” and are showing me respect according to their culture. Even using a less formal “Hi” will offend. “guys” and “folks” are far to informal for the business world.

    Do I like it? No. Is it worth correcting clients who are paying me? Often no. Respect, translation, and a host of other issues get in the way.

    Whenever possible, I change the email greeting to their name to be a) specific b) respectful and c) avoid any gendered assumptions.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      This is very close to my experience. I am resigned to receiving “Dear Sirs” when the email is in English but not from a native speaker (very common from my S. Korean or Japanese contacts).

      Meanwhile a new US contact thought I was being rudely stiff when I addressed her as Dr Smith rather than Jane.

      1. MaureenSmith*

        Hooo boy. Don’t EVER forget the Doctorate for an international colleage. Guaranteed way to cause problems.

        For many where Engish is their 3rd, 4th, etc language, they may not even realize that “Dear Sir” is gendered. It’s just the formula they are following. Or auto-translate made the assumption when translating their standard greeting to English.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Good point. It’s important to recognize when you are being addressed with whatever the standard respectful greeting it from someone from another culture.

      Personally, I have to address clients, and many times an informal salutation would not be appropriate. I try to go by Dear A, B, & C (first names). Since everything is by email, if I don’t know all the names of the people on the team, I will write to whoever I do know (by name) and request that they share my email with the team. That generally gets around the problem of using a collective noun of any kind.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        In Thai, the courtesy greeting is gendered, but takes the gender of the speaker, rather than that of the person being addressed.

        An interesting variation from another culture.

  30. Sans Serif*

    How do you guys (see what I did there …) start a cover letter? It’s been a while and I honestly can’t remember the salutation I used. What would be a g0od gender neutral, not outdated word/phrase to use?

    1. MechE*

      To Whom It May Concern is still the standard as far as I’m concerned, regardless of what some say. It’s gender neutral and not outdated.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        To Whom It May Concern is for an indeterminate recipient. A letter of recommendation is the classic example, as it might go to multiple people, and there is no telling at time of writing who these might be. It is at the least a bit odd for correspondence to a specific person or group of persons.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Yes – if you know who you’re writing to (eg there’s a named contact on the job listing) then put Dear Mr Smith or Dear Ms Jones. At the very least it shows you’re paying attention!

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            And if you don’t know this person’s name, and this is a cover letter to a resume, then as Alison points out, “Dear Hiring Manager” is correct. The letter is to a specific person, even if you don’t know this person’s name.

    2. Vertigo*

      I just write ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ – I think it was something Alison mentioned, but not sure.

      I know the person reading it probably does not have that title, but they’re involved in hiring me so it fits well enough without being informal.

      1. Elenna*

        FWIW, Alison has said that “hiring manager” is not a specific title (unlike what I thought at first, it doesn’t refer to some particular person in HR who is the manager in charge of hiring). It’s actually a general term for “whichever manager will be in charge of the new hire”, i.e. the person who will be your new boss if you get the job. And that is presumably the person/one of the people reading your cover letter, so it’s even more correct than you thought!

        1. Autistic AF*

          Not everyone knows that, unfortunately! I remember the following call pre-COVID:

          Me: Hello, (company), how can I help you?
          Caller: This is (name), can I speak to the hiring manager?
          Me: I’m sorry, the hiring manager for what department?
          Caller: Whichever department is hiring.
          Me: We aren’t hiring at this time, but please check our website for job postings in the future.

          I’m no more fond of cold calling than I am of “dear sirs”!

      1. MechE*

        Why has “To Whom It May Concern” fallen out of favor? It works no matter who reads it (HR, peer review, and the hiring manager), whereas “Dear Hiring Manager” only works for the Hiring Manager.

        1. BPT*

          I tend to agree with you, MechE. Cover letters very often go to multiple people, and hiring decisions are often made by more than one person. I still use “To Whom It May Concern,” partly because using the term “Dear” in any professional correspondence seems way to familiar to me. I acknowledge I’m probably on my own with that last opinion, but I just can’t bring myself to write it.

          1. MechE*

            You aren’t on your own. I wouldn’t use Dear with someone I’ve never met. It is too familiar and, dare I say, intimate.

        2. Mental Lentil*

          It’s exceedingly formal, it’s stiff, it makes you sound like you’re writing from 1926, it’s impersonal, it sounds presumptuous…I could go on.

          1. MechE*

            Interesting. I have the opposite opinion of Dear Hiring Manager. Using “Dear” feels overly familiar and the phrasing of a semi intimate word like Dear with an unknown like Hiring Manager seems awkward. On the whole, it feels much less professional and unpolished than To Whom It May Concern.

        3. Happy*

          I prefer “to whom it may concern”, as well. It doesn’t strike me as particularly formal but obviously opinions differ.

    3. Esmeralda*

      To the Search Committee:

      To the Hiring Manager:

      Fortunately I work in academia, so Dear Dr. Lastname is always ok — even if it’s wrong, almost no one is offended by it, and NOT using “Dr.” when someone does have a doctorate can offend some folks. I include my pronouns in my signature, so I’m good with Dr. Lastname or Ms. Lastname. (But not Mrs. Lastname — that’s my mom)

  31. Works with Military*

    I just start my emails with the generic greeting of All. As in,

    All,
    Please stop defaulting to the masculine.

    Also, I still use Sir and Ma’am when the situation calls for it, but I work with the military.

  32. Harvey JobGetter*

    I think the male co-worker WAS saying “you guys” is no okay — he even explained how he goes out of his way to avoid saying it. So that’s a long rant that seems directed at him when he is probably innocent (and instead a stand in for the actually guilty).

    What I find so bizarre is that I’ve been in the job market for almost 30 years, and when I started, we used “Dear Sirs and Madams.” That’s also weirdly dated, but not weirdly sexist like “Dear Sirs.” Have we seriously backslid on this issue?

    1. OP*

      Yes, for the most part he was playing devil’s advocate for how it COULD be seen. But he also agreed that his colleague was not a Sir and should not be addressed that way, even in a group context.

  33. CatPerson*

    I can’t stand y’all, especially in writing. Unless the person writing it is from the south. I would look sideways at someone who used that in a business communication.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      It also often is unnecessary, as the plural form of “you” is “you.” This was not always true, but ones has to go on a deep dialectal dive to find anyone unironically using any form of “thou.” That being said, “y’all” is sometimes used slightly differently from “you,” and greetings is one of those cases. “Hey, Y’all” has a different connotation from “Hay, you.” But coming some anyone who doesn’t come by it honestly, any use of “y’all” comes across as a bit twee.

      1. introverted af*

        I find in my communication though that it’s frequently important to distinguish between “you” the individual I am directly speaking to, and ‘you’ the general group of people I’m referring to. So I still prefer y’all in those contexts.

        A good example being, last week we had one of several conversations about what our workplace would look like post-pandemic, led by one of the assoc. VPs in our department. So “when you say that you can’t build community in a virtual workplace, that says more about your priorities than it does about what’s actually possible” could come across way more combative than, “when you all/y’all…” Especially given that the particular VP leading the conversation I was in is really good about encouraging flexibility and supporting all the people that report to her.

    2. twocents*

      I’m with you. Something about the sound of the word y’all makes it extremely grating.

    3. Broadway Duchess*

      I hope you reconsider this view. “Y’all” is definitely part of the vernacular of many Black people, regardless of geographical location. The word made the trip from the south during the Great Migration and hasn’t been exclusively Southern in the Black community for a very long time.

    4. Deborah*

      How do you know someone is from the south? Where I live people genuinely use it but we aren’t deep enough in the South to have a stereotypical accent, so you wouldn’t know it. Also, after 12 years here, the word has made its way into my vocabulary organically and is apparently here to stay.

  34. RC Rascal*

    The Indianapolis 500 traditionally opens with the call, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

    When Janet Guthrie qualified for 1977 edition, they changed it to, “Lady and Gentlemen, start your engines.”

    If car racing can get it right, then so can everyone else.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Surprisingly, NASCAR is the one sport that has gone out of its way to be inclusive with regard to minorities, women, and LGBTQ (although I could be mistaken about the last one). If they can do it, why can’t all pro sports?

      1. nonbinary writer*

        The biggest twist of 2020 was that the right got Harry Potter and the left got NASCAR.

  35. Allypopx*

    I (female) don’t mind being called sir on an individual basis – to be fair it’s typically tongue in cheek and I’m basically fine being addressed however if I know someone *knows* my pronouns. It’s when people don’t know I’m female and assume I’m male that I get annoyed. So like if a client or a volunteer or someone I know addressed us as “sirs” I would probably find it charming, but if it was a stranger I’d find it obnoxious. So for me it’s a familiarity thing.

    I’m trying so hard to drop “guys” from my vernacular but it’s so ingrained. I use “all” if “folks, friends, or team” feels too informal and “colleagues” feels too formal.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      I shall accept being called “Sir” when I am captain of a starship, and in return I’ll refer to my first officer as Number One.

  36. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

    Oh my goodness, “dear sirs” is so grating to me! As is “dear sir or madam.” And I receive those quite a bit. I am also sometimes addressed as “mrs.” in cover letters, and that feels equally frustrating. I am married, but I do not use my spouse’s name. I don’t like it, they don’t like it, and my name is my name. Moreover, my name is gender neutral, so unless you take the time to Google me, “mrs.” is an assumption. And my particular role, at my particular level, is occupied by men in their 40s-60s. I am below 40 and a woman. So “sir” often hits doubly hard.

    As Cobol points out above, just because a few people think it’s shorthand for addressing a gender-neutral group, that doesn’t make it necessarily so. If you’re in a group that is historically excluded and/or oppressed, if you or your peers experience daily violence, threats, and erasure, then, heck yes “dear sirs” is bad. It’s literal erasure.

    One thing I have noticed with “dear sirs” or “sir or madam” is that they come from outside my geographic area (current United States), and usually by elder researchers or professors or entry-level professionals. HOWEVER, please note that *I am not making assumptions about other countries, cultures, or generations; this is only my very limited experience.* I could have just encountered a very gendered subset of human beings, which could very much be the case.

    1. LutherstadtWittenberg*

      I never married; my name has never changed. When I reached my early 40s, some of my mail was suddenly addressed to Mrs. Josette DuPres. When I was much younger, not long after I’d stopped using a gender-neutral version of my first name, I’d receive mail addressed to Mr. Jo Dupres.

      I am different things to different people, but their honorifics don’t apply to me. I’m good with Ms. but just the surname is dandy. Yelled down an unrealistic grassy knoll.

  37. CR*

    Once when I was helping with hiring, we got a resume MAILED to the office AND addressed to “Dear Sirs.” If they had taken two minutes to research the job, they would have seen that every employee was female! That went right in the trash.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        I like to imagine this “dear sirs” user was indeed so stuck-in-the-past that he licked a modern, self-adhesive stamp.

  38. OyHiOh*

    I’ve been known to occasionally start emails to co-workers with “gentlemen!” My boss noticed, and noted, that I only use that salutation when I’m a little annoyed and need to retrain/explain yet again, how to do something. (I’m the only woman in the office).

    Generally, I stick with y’all. If I need to be more formal, I name the group I’m contacting “Dear board of directors” and similar.

    1. Jane Anonusten*

      If I’m sufficiently irked at someone, I will end my email with a period after “Thanks” instead of a comma which I interpret as “now F off.” I seriously doubt anyone notices, but it makes me feel better :)

  39. Gem*

    In my field, we have to send formal correspondence to a government body. And it’s the custom to address it with “Dear Sirs.” This annoys me for all the reasons listed above, but it’s so engrained that I don’t what how we’ll ever move away from it.

    Luckily, around the office the tide has definitely been turning to more gender-neutral salutations.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      But if its a government body why not use their title:
      Dear Representatives
      Dear Senators
      Dear Governor Generals
      Dear Esteemed Colleagues
      Dear Council Members
      Or Dear X Members and Affiliates

      So many better things than Sirs

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Gosh, I just realised we also do this. I wonder why? It’s only ever as part of very formally phrased official correspondence where almost everyone is referred to in the third person, and uses the royal “we”. This is official correspondence which is immediately public record, and we don’t do it for privileged correspondence.

      Despite the “Dear Sirs” convention, you wouldn’t dream of reverting to “he” for an unknown person rather than “they”. At least we’ve staggered into the twentieth century…

  40. Not A Manager*

    I am Not Young, and even when I was learning typing (on a typewriter) in middle school we were taught to open business letters with “Dear Sir or Madam.” Dear Sirs went out with Dickens.

    1. Sylvan*

      This was actually a reply to another comment, not, like, an unprompted meltdown. :/ Although it is a mood.

  41. Safely Retired*

    Usually you give clear advice about what to DO, not just what to NOT do. This time you didn’t. I can only assume that where one would have addressed the letter with a formal Dear Sirs, the current correct behavior is to dispense with the honorific entirely. Why not say that?

    1. Allypopx*

      As in never say sir in any context ever? Because that’s not what she’s saying. This is weirdly confrontational.

    2. D3*

      Because the question was not “what should I write instead?” the question asked was “Is this outdated or sexist”
      But hey, I guess if you’re determined to nitpick, you’ll find something…

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What to write depends on the situation. Some options:

      Hi team
      Dear Jane and Bob
      Dear Marketing Team
      Hi folks
      Hi y’all
      Dear hiring manager

      … it depends on who you’re writing to.

      (But yes, as others have pointed out, that wasn’t the question.)

      1. Safely Retired*

        I completely appreciate the problem with Sirs. With two sisters, a wife, a daughter and a granddaughter all dealing with or having dealt with gender bias in their professional lives it is very real to me, though only indirectly.
        When I have used Dear Sirs it has always (a) been my intention to be formal, and (b) without knowing who I was addressing specifically or I would have been specific. I don’t have a substitute that combines those attributes. I guess nobody does.
        Actually I also have a problem with Dear. When the realtor sends a flyer that starts Dear Homeowner… well I know I am not particularly dear to them unless I use them to sell my house. The few people who are actually dear to me are going to get informal salutations.

        1. Metadata minion*

          If you really have to use that style of formality, “Dear Sir or Madam” is at least better than Dear Sirs.

  42. Anon Lawyer*

    My least favorite locution is when I’m the only woman in a group and correspondence is addressed to Dear Gentlemen and Ms. Anon Lawyer. I don’t see it much and I guess it’s not technically incorrect, but I find it patronizing. The term “counsel” exists for a reason.

    “Guys” I don’t use at work but defend as gender neutral in my West Coast vernacular in social settings. I probably wouldn’t refer to an individual woman as a guy but it doesn’t seem strange at all to me to refer to a group of women as “guys” so it doesn’t feel like it’s writing women out to me. And “hey guys” feels more natural to me than “hey girls” on a social email. “Folks” I do sometimes use in a work context. But I think “Hi team” can also be fine to open up informal emails.

    1. LDF*

      It’s not a west coast vernacular thing, it’s a change in perspective. Plenty of us on the west coast also dislike “guys” being used for all female and mixed groups. If someone does it I don’t think “a ha, they are sexist” but “wow, I wish people stopped using masculine as a default unthinkingly because it’s a standard rooted in sexism regardless of individual intention”

      1. Anon Lawyer*

        Well, I use it with friends – if they ask me to stop, I will stop. But I’m also a woman and also someone who thinks about things like language and how it’s used, and this one doesn’t personally bother me for the reasons I stated.

        1. Anon Lawyer*

          (And having lived and worked on the East Coast for 10 years, I do think there is a difference in the vernacular here even if not everyone uses it or likes it the same way – I heard constructions like “hi girls!” or “hey ladies!” MUCH more there in similar situations.)

        2. nugget*

          This is one of those things that I don’t think you can wait for people to ask you to stop. I’m not speaking specifically to you and your friends, since I don’t know any of you. But as a non-binary person who grew up in the northeast, “hey guys” was a default part of my vernacular for most of my life…. until I started thinking about gender.

          What got me to change was similar to Alison’s point – nobody refers to a woman as a guy. A group of women as guys? Sure. But a single woman is not a guy. It’s just not used that way. It’s masculine by default. A casual, gentle masculinity, sure, but not neutral.

          But I would never tell anyone not to use “guys” around me because it IS so embedded in vernacular and a lot of people consider it to be gender neutral, snd getting folks to even understand the idea of non-binary identities is hard enough without adding in “please stop using this gendered language that you don’t think is gendered but it absolutely is”

          So the people who have taken it on themselves to stop get more respect from me.

          Again, not specifically chastising you for any of your personal choices, more just responding to the topic/idea in general.

          1. Kale*

            Is it productive though to “start thinking about gender” and then overthink “you guys”? If’ we’re happy with “you guys” (and I’m a woman) then why overthink it?

              1. Anon Lawyer*

                My issue is that there seems to be an assumption (not necessarily by you) that if you think about it, you come to one conclusion. I’m not out to make anyone unhappy so try to cordone my use – but the fact that I am not bothered by “guys” doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it.

                1. Lisa*

                  You know, I thought I wasn’t bothered by it, but then we went to Ireland a few years ago. It really bugged the crap out of me for bartenders and waitresses to say, “Hi lads, what will you have?” It’s exactly the same, but since I was placed in a different context, I felt it’s impact every time. So now I try not to say “you guys” even though nobody has asked me to stop.

                  I actually think your issue is that you feel like you’re being told you’re doing something wrong, which is an unpleasant feeling, so you’re sliding toward the “I’m not bothered by it, you people are too sensitive” end of the spectrum. I mean, there is only one conclusion – guy=man, therefore, you guys=you men. Calling a group of women “you men” is inaccurate at best.

                2. AutolycusinExile*

                  I feel the same way. As a woman I’m super unbothered by it personally, and there are actually circumstances when I’d absolutely refer to an individual woman as a guy. Not nearly as often as I use ‘guys’ for a group, but then I don’t use ‘guy’ singularly as often with men either. I also refer to individual women as ‘dude’ or ‘man’ in certain contexts. Only with people I know well enough to be sure they won’t feel uncomfortable with it, since obviously gender identity can be fraught, but still. My community uses ‘guys’ frequently and without issue despite the varied gender identities of everyone involved, cis and trans. And yes, most of us are also from the West Coast, so there’s definitely something to the regional usage theory!

                  Different people experience the word differently, so I do definitely think it’s worth being careful with it around new people or those you don’t know well. But I chafe at the implication that it’s *never* acceptable to use with women, and I also dislike the implication that it’s impossible to decouple words from gender given that words can absolutely change meaning over time. The prescriptivism rubs me the wrong way. I guess I don’t see what’s so sacred about gender that isn’t about other descriptors – we let ‘you’ replace ‘thou’ no problem, and who all is participating in the conversation seems like way more important information to include in speech than what gender the listener happens to be! Personally, I also feel that this rising pushback against using ‘guys’ when women are involved actually is delaying the natural de-gendering of the word and ironically increases the unnecessary focus on gender in the conversation. I know this isn’t a popular opinion here, but I feel that this actually does more harm that the potential good done by using an obvious alternative. (In this essay I will… :P)

                  But yes, I absolutely agree with Anon Lawyer here that us disagreeing with the dominant opinion about this isn’t indicative of not having thought about it! We even still share the same values, we’re just coming to different conclusions because we’re prioritizing different things.

            1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

              Because quite a few of us aren’t happy with it, and nugget has no way of knowing whether they’re addressing someone who uses it, doesn’t care either way, or dislikes it.

              Worry about overthinking when it’s stopping you from acting.

        3. Roci*

          This is where I stand–I have never thought that “you guys” was formal enough for business communications, especially written, but it is acceptable for me socially. I have always thought it was gendered, same with “dude”, but it’s just not that big a priority for me. I would rather society prioritize its precious brainspace on more meaningful systemic gender reforms, or fighting more offensive words still in circulation. Or scrubbing religious-based phrases like “Oh my god” or “Bless you”. Or learning a whole new language.

    2. No Tribble At All*

      If they reversed the order of the salutation — Dear Ms. Anon Lawyer and Gentlemen– it almost sounds like they’re all *your* Gentlemen. Goals?

  43. twocents*

    Uh, I’d never address a broad email to a mixed gender group as “dear sirs” but I’m definitely the mythical weirdo Alison referenced in saying “thank you sir/ma’am” to very specific people.

  44. Reed*

    I had a prolonged email correspondence with someone who addressed me as ‘dear sir’ from the start. I signed my answers with my name, which is a traditionally female one in quite a few cultures. He persisted in calling me ‘sir’. After a couple of exchanges I asked why he kept calling me ‘sir’ and he replied that he’d assumed the correspondence my end was being typed up and sent on by the secretary. Yes. He thought I was my own secretary.

    1. allathian*

      That’s weird… Because even in old times when letters were typed up by secretaries, they were still signed by the person whose name was on the letter, and to whom any reply was addressed.

  45. heyjules*

    I usually agree with all of your advice. But not this time. “Sir” or “Sirs” is an appropriate opening, and the environment I work in (the military) expects it. I usually open with “Sir/Ma’am” or “Sirs/Ma’ams.”

    There’s nothing sexist or wrong with this word. I’m so tired of everything being an issue these days.

    1. Sylvan*

      I feel like norms around calling people “sir” and “ma’am” might be slightly different in the military, compared to other workplaces?

    2. CheeryO*

      Using it with Ma’am or Ma’ams isn’t sexist, just very formal. If that’s typical for your field, that’s fine. Alison was describing a situation when a woman would be receiving correspondence addressed to “Sirs,” which most definitely is sexist.

    3. Cobol*

      People aren’t saying sirs is sexist if accompanied by ma’am/madam, but by itself it is.

      OP clarifies that they are in the military too, which may be the only place it’s not out of date, but as general advice, people should just avoid using sir, at least in the US.

    4. Gan Ainm*

      Yeah you missed the entire context here. Sirs is inoffensive (though outdated) if the recipients are in fact all male. But it’s offensive to assume anyone in a position of power must be male and just default to that, especially when the assumption ends up being wrong. I’m so tired of everything being an issue these days…because people don’t read.

      1. heyjules*

        Also, Gan, did YOU miss this part of Allison’s reply? My response was advising that, yes, sir and ma’am are still relevant in some lines of business.

        That’s before we even get into how weird and retro it is, completely aside from the sexism and even when one is addressing a man. Who is calling individual colleagues “sir” these days? Are they also calling individual women “ma’am” or “madam”? And in writing? It’s odd, to say the least.

        You’re welcome, by the way.

    5. Bolt33*

      “I’m so tired of everything being an issue these days.”

      These days? There are many things that were always problematic, but the people drawing attention to them are finally getting heard. (Sometimes.) I’m sure it’s very exhausting to you to realize that not everyone is cool with sexism (racism, homophobia, etc.). It sounds very strenuous, but not nearly as exhausting as it is to actually be the one hurt by sexism.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        heyjules’ comment explains a lot of the issues we have with the military, I think.

    6. fhqwhgads*

      You just said you usually open with “Sir/Ma’am” or “Sirs/Ma’ams.” so you’re not disagreeing? The question was about appropriateness of “Dear Sirs” to a group that is either known to not be 100% men, or of unknown gender composition. If you knew you were talking to 6 men and 3 women and used Dear Sirs, that would be inappropriate, but you just indicated you don’t do that. If you didn’t know the genders of anyone and used “Dear Sirs” alone, that presumes they’re all men, which is sexist. If you use “Sirs/Madams” you’re following the expectation for your environment and not being inappropriate (and excluding nonbinary people but it’s likely that environment requires that).

    7. biobotb*

      Then why do you add “ma’am” if you consider “sirs” to be sufficient and non-sexist even if you may be addressing a woman?

  46. OP*

    OP here. To clarify, I work in tangent with active duty military, so Ma’am and Sir are the absolute minimum if talking to a person of higher rank -which is the norm in my specific office. “Guys” would only be okay if talking to peers or those of lower ranks. Saying the first name is absolutely Not Okay, especially when sending out an email to a General!

    I will say that when sending out mass emails to those in authority (think Colonel and above), I use either “good morning all” or “good morning ma’am/sir”. If the group is all one rank, then i specify.

    1. Sylvan*

      That makes sense. And I suppose you’re writing emails that are addressed to people or groups too specific to use “to whom it may concern.”

    2. Nicotene*

      Oooh, the military is probably one of the few exception to all the other discussion here (although “dear sirs” would still be offensive to me in that context). I think Alison might have answered a little differently if she’d had that context.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        The military equivalent of Sir is Ma’am.

        Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, or Sailors may or may not work depending on audience.

        Service Members
        Leaders

        1. Valancy Snaith*

          Indeed. “Sir,” “ma’am,” “sirs/ma’ams,” or “good day respectfully to all ranks” are all acceptable. “Mesdames” is not.

    3. Works with Military*

      I think this is an important detail. I also think a lot of people won’t get the culture. O-7 and above as well as E-9 get addressed by rank, sometimes colonels if they are touchy, everyone else gets first name. That’s how I was taught in the Pentagon, that’s what I’m sticking with. However, I work with the Army, where officers are less rank sensitive than, say, the Air Force, or the Navy, where enlisted are very rank focused (this is my personal experience). Regardless, there is no excuse for a single gendered greeting. Dear Sir/Ma’am and Sirs/Ma’ams are the standards. ALCON (all concerned) also works.

      My experience is based on working for/with 1-4 star Generals and political appointees up to service secretaries.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        For a service member, someone of a higher rank almost always gets a Rank Last name or Sir/Ma’am not just Colonels and above.

        And the Navy is super rank focused.

        1. Works with Military*

          It is/was different for me because I’m a civilian. None of them outrank me. Titles and ranks are used as a matter of courtesy. If a Major would like me to address them as Major, I’ll do it, but I’m going side eye them. More importantly, everyone is going to look at Major Steve like he is a weirdo, including his senior rater, BG Matt.

      2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Huh. The Air Force must have changed a LOT since I was in it in the 1970s. Anyone, including the base commander, who cared about rank at that time would have been laughed at. Any new enlistees assigned to a permanent base who would salute an officer would usually hear “Stop that, it’s embarrassing!” Yeah, the 70s were cool.

      3. nonegiven*

        Is the Army less rank sensitive than the Navy because Captain is O3 in the Army and O6 in the Navy?

      1. No Tribble At All*

        Working in a civilian environment with a large minority of former military, I was very confused why one coworker kept addressing us as the company that makes my contact lens solution.

      2. Ashley*

        I have to say as a non military person I kind of like ALCON — though I would have to type out all concerned, but it does offer some precision.

    4. TiffIf*

      Curious, are senior female officers addressed as “Sir” individually? I am not in the military but in some fiction pieces I have seen female officers addressed individually as “Sir” (as in senior officers are always addresses as “sir” no matter their gender) but in others I have seen “Ma’am” used. What’s the trend?