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(Edit - This seems to be a polarising question, with equal votes both up and down (currently 16-16). I am beginning to suspect that in the US this may seem a sarcastic question, since 'folks' is in more common usage there. However, the question was asked in good faith.)

I have noticed that many senior members of the community (both volunteer and employee) use the word 'folks' where I, personally, would naturally use the word 'people' or use a more passive voice.

Many folks seem confused right now

--> Many people seem confused right now

Or

--> There seems to be a lot of confusion right now

I understand that it helps guard against using less inclusive language ("You guys..." would be an obvious example) but in many cases it feels a bit forced, so I was wondering if this has been mandated or whether it is just a convention that has evolved over time.

If it was a conscious decision, what was the thinking behind it? Could I accidentally disenfranchise or potentially even hurt someone by using 'people' or the passive? Is it documented anywhere?

Furthermore how was this change effected? Was it achieved with less friction than the currently proposed changes in the CoC?

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    Furthermore how was this change effected? People have been using the word "folks" for a long time. There are a couple I can think of who almost always use it. – BSMP Oct 16 '19 at 11:20
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    So is it an Americanism? It would be pretty boring but I can point out loads of posts where it seems very much crow-barred in. I've clearly struck a nerve to recieve so many down-votes already! – Abulafia Oct 16 '19 at 11:24
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    People are people, folks are folks. Both words are fine to use, it's just a matter of personal preference which one uses more often. – Daniel Fischer Oct 16 '19 at 11:25
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    I can't speak to how common it is in which country but I wouldn't be surprised if it was regional. – BSMP Oct 16 '19 at 11:26
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    Uninteresting fact: "folk" is a direct translation of "people" in the Nordic languages. I would guess English got this word from the vikings. – Lundin Oct 16 '19 at 11:42
  • What do you mean by passive, do you mean formality? To use users = people in the passive voice, it would be: "Users/people were confused by the new regulations." I agree, folks, is too "folksy" in this instance but in informal communications, between users and moderators, it's perfectly fine and normal. – Mari-Lou A Oct 16 '19 at 13:40
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    While folks is a standard English word, I have noticed a strong tendency for it to be used for TQ+ people. "trans folks", "queer folks", etc. I'm not sure why. – eyeballfrog Oct 19 '19 at 23:04
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    Its a very informal way of describing a group of people. One might say... its folksy. – Journeyman Geek Oct 20 '19 at 0:58
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    I think it's a subconscious effort to disarm people and put them at their ease, à la Andy Griffith. (Watch an episode of the old Andy Griffith show if you never have.) // "You guys" has become unisex. There's no need to avoid it. – aparente001 Nov 17 '19 at 13:02
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Using "folks" instead of "people" or similar is not mandated by any rule or policy.

It is merely a colloquially nice and neutral term with some familiarity to it that can be used to address groups of people. In that vein, it is seen as "warmer" and more kind than "people", and has settled into common parlance with many people.

Additionally, hearing other people use certain mannerisms causes us all to gravitate towards these as well, especially when we respect the people using them. That is how this proliferates, in a very mild, non policy way. We're all prone to a bit of code switching whereever we talk, so when you get someplace and see a lot of people using that word, and if you have no particular preference, you gravitate towards using it.

Also, "folks" and "y'all" are an easy way to bypass grammar traps for us ESL people :)

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    Thank you for a considered answer that wasn't just a knee-jerk assuming I'm being unpleasant. I genuinely just wanted to know if this had evolved or had been decided at some point and whether we could learn something from its adoption. I must say I can now see why Meta has a bit of a reputation as a bear-pit! – Abulafia Oct 16 '19 at 11:28
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    It does feel that way sometimes doesn't it. But right now it's worse then usual, because everyone's on edge from the latest fallout. – Magisch Oct 16 '19 at 11:31
  • Y'all has all sorts of traps associated with it -- it's singular, for a start -- I'm told that All y'all is the plural but it's not my idiolect. Ask me about y'am and them're and I'm there for you. – ColeValleyGirl Oct 16 '19 at 12:07
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    @ColeValleyGirl "y'all" is not generally singular. When I've heard "all y'all" it's used plurally too... but in an emphatic way to specify that all of the people being spoken to did something whereas "y'all" is merely a general you (plural). This is, of course regional. But, when I use "y'all" it's specifically designed to be plural. I've never (knowingly) used "y'all" as a singular. – Catija Oct 16 '19 at 13:04
  • @Catija, Whoops -- went back and checked my recent discussion on the subject and yes: "y'all'" is plural and "all y'all" inclusive (apologies to the person I was conversing with for misquoting them). As I said, not my idiolect. I stick by y'am and them're though (English Black Country). – ColeValleyGirl Oct 16 '19 at 13:08
  • @ColeValleyGirl Ya'll is a contraction of "you all" (imagine pointing your finger at a group of people as you say it). Saying "all ya'll" is the equivalent of saying "all you all", which is rather silly. Of course where I live and grew up, it's not uncommon to hear either. – mason Oct 16 '19 at 13:24
  • @mason y'all seems to be a can of worms! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y%27all – ColeValleyGirl Oct 16 '19 at 13:41
  • @ColeValleyGirl In what way? – mason Oct 16 '19 at 13:43
  • @mason, that wikipedia article refers to y'all as singular, y'll as plusral and valid uses of all y'all as well. – ColeValleyGirl Oct 16 '19 at 13:46
  • @ColeValleyGirl, "y'all" is the second-person singular pronoun in Texas, and the second-person plural in the rest of the southeastern United States. In Texas, the second-person plural pronoun is "all y'all". – Mark Oct 16 '19 at 20:42
  • I grew up in Texas and rarely (if ever) heard y'all used as singular. It's very common as a (gender-neutral) plural for a group of folks. "All y'all" is a little less common, for larger groups. – Nate Barbettini Nov 17 '19 at 14:27
  • What is ESL? I'm assuming it has nothing to do with banking, credit or e-sports. – Peilonrayz Nov 20 '19 at 0:46
  • @Peilonrayz English as a Second Language, i.e. those for whom English is learned rather than their native language. – Nate Barbettini Nov 20 '19 at 1:54
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Definition of the word "folks", taken from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/folks:

people, esp. those of a particular group or type:

  • Some folks have been waiting over an hour to buy tickets.

It's a perfectly valid and perfectly neutral English word.

It can be used instead of people, and as the above example shows, it can be used when talking about a group of people, while "people" is more general.

I can't see anything about it (for or against) in the CoC, old or new.

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    Thank you for the clarification, but I was wondering why it was used so overwhelmingly on SE. As stated in my comment above, possibly it's an Americanism of which I'm unaware? – Abulafia Oct 16 '19 at 11:25
  • @Abulafia the other answer covers that. :) – Shadow Wizard is Ear For You Oct 16 '19 at 11:41
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    As a "folks" repeat user I agree with this answer - my subjective perception is that "folks" is maybe a little less formal than "people" but that's about it. – Mena Oct 16 '19 at 12:49
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Although the word “folks” is commonly used in American English, as a non-American English speaker I would never use it and I choose from the words “everyone”, “everybody” or “people” instead.

  • Folks is a really really old English word. Look it up in the dictionary, you might be pleasantly surprised: “Superseded in most senses by people. Generally a collective noun in Middle English, however plural folks is attested from 15c”. – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 at 15:08
  • @Mari-LouA Sure, it's just that "folks" sounds very American to us non-Americans. As a speaker of Australian English, I'd never say it (except for comedic effect, in a fake American accent), although I do use terms like "folk music" and "folk dancing". – PM 2Ring Jan 26 at 16:31
  • The Australians are well known for their original slang and friendly greetings, I don't expect Americans would feel comfortable greeting anyone G'day Sheila/Bruce, so each culture has its norms and language is no exception. Nevertheless, folk(s) is a British English term, steeped in history. The fact that Americans adopted it freely and made it their own doesn't mean the word loses any of its dignity or history. – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 at 17:34
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tl;dr- No, there's no rule requiring the use of "folks". It's just an informal synonym for "people", often used to signal a friendly, relaxed tone.


"Folks" is more informal than "people".

"Folks" is an informal synonym for "people". That is, they basically mean the same thing, just the use of "folks" signals informality.

Formality-vs.-informality helps to set a social tone.

  • More formal environments are more structured and rule-based.

  • Less formal environments are more flexible and relaxed.

It's apt that you'd pick up on more senior members using informal language. There's a bit of social dynamics behind that; more senior members can set a rigid tone if they're formal and officious in everything, while they can set a more friendly tone if they're informal and relaxed.

That said, policy doesn't generally require you to use certain words over others.

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"Folk" is a very old word, used by all sorts of folks.

"People" is a fine word too, and I use it nearly as often. However, there are situations where I avoid it: e.g., I would not address a group as "people" unless I was trying to come off as aloof, better than them, or disapproving in some way.

I don't know why I have this association, but I don't think it's uncommon: the next time you're in a group and you hear someone raising their voice to say, "Okay, People" look up - I'll bet it'll be someone who thinks they're in charge. So I find it off-putting, and try to avoid it.

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    In your example I associate the "Okay" with someone in charge that has had enough. I have never heard anyone having a negative association with "People". I would not make such assertions on the mere basis of a correlation (you may have heard the combo 'Okay, people' alot). – dfhwze Nov 17 '19 at 13:24

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