Word of the Day

guy

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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Definition

a model of a person made out of old clothes that is burned on Guy Fawkes’ Night in the UK

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.



Origin and usage

The noun guy used in reference to an effigy burned on a bonfire on November 5th dates from the beginning of the 19th century. The meaning of ‘man’ more generally originated in the US in the middle of that century. The meaning of a rope used especially on a ship is much earlier and is unrelated.

Examples

The noun guy comes directly from the name of Guy (also Guido) Fawkes, whose discovery in the cellars underneath Parliament in the company of a large quantity of explosives in the early hours of 5 November 1605 led to the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot. This failed attempt to blow up the Protestant King James while he was opening Parliament and return the country to Catholicism with his young daughter Elizabeth on the throne is still commemorated today. During my childhood, Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes’ Night far outweighed Halloween in the calendar of festivities. Many people had parties with fireworks and bonfires in their gardens, and in the run-up to the event you would  see children collecting money for fireworks by showing off their guy, a model of a person made out of old clothes and stuffed with newspaper or straw. ‘A penny for the guy‘ was the cry. While today’s celebrations still feature fireworks and often a bonfire, it is increasingly unusual to see a guy burning on top of it, although the tradition is still observed in some places. In a further change, organized public firework displays have increasingly replaced domestic efforts featuring rockets stuck in milk bottles, sparklers held in gloved hands, and catherine wheels pinned on a garden post.

Quotations

“Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!”

(English folk poem)

Related words

Bonfire Night, the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes’ Night, fireworks

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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