Folks = parents?
April 21, 2014 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Where you live, or where you grew up, do people commonly refer to their parents as "my folks"? Would that phrasing sound odd to you, or stand out in any way, if, say, a coworker used it?

I grew up hearing "my folks" often used in place of "my parents" (born and raised in Texas, but my parents are from the Midwest). In fact, I think I pretty much always refer to my parents that way. But a California native recently told me that it sounds odd to them, and almost intentionally too-casual. ("Folksy," even!)

Now I'm curious about whether it's a regionalism, or an anachronism, or what. Please provide anecdata?
posted by mudpuppie to Writing & Language (89 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I use this phrasing and it is not weird to me, nor has it ever been weird in any of the places I've lived (Maryland, Michigan, New York, California, Washington).
posted by joan_holloway at 9:21 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lifelong New Englander here, "my folks" sounds perfectly normal.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:21 AM on April 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Grew up in DC metro in the 80s, I both used "my folks" and heard it used very frequently. I now live in Denver and hear "my family" more frequently. I think I would be surprised to hear "my folks" here, actually.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:22 AM on April 21, 2014

I'm also from and live in California and can't think of anyone I've known here that says "my folks".

It doesn't sound weird to me though, but probably just because I've read it/heard it a lot online or in books, movies, etc.
posted by treese at 9:23 AM on April 21, 2014

Grew up in Northern California, parents grew up in California, too, and "My folks" doesn't sound archaic to me. I don't know if I would ever use it, but it wouldn't sound strange.

However there may be a city/rural divide - I grew up in an agricultural county seat, not the Bay Area.
posted by muddgirl at 9:25 AM on April 21, 2014

"my folks" and "the folks" is almost more common than "my parents" among my family - i grew up in arkansas, my extended family is traveling military, i'd say a lot of our speech/culture is a mash of midwest and southern.
posted by nadawi at 9:25 AM on April 21, 2014

California native here, I can't think of anyone I know that uses that phrase commonly, but I wouldn't think it was strange if I heard it, I think it's common enough in media and such that it wouldn't seem odd.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:25 AM on April 21, 2014

Midwesterner with a pink collar gig here - it would sound very informal at work. I would not say "my folks" if I were talking to anyone at work unless I also knew them as a friend outside of work. It's not something that I'd expect from a college-educated person who grew up in an urban area; I'd expect it either from someone who grew up working class and/or outside the city, or else from someone upper middle class who thought of it as a cute affectation because of the contrast between their social position and the origins of the phrase.
posted by Frowner at 9:26 AM on April 21, 2014

I grew up in North Carolina in the 80s, with two parents who were raised in Kansas. I remember for certain that my dad would refer to parents as "folks." Possibly also my mom and other relatives, possibly also other people I grew up around, but I can't recall for sure.

It's the kind of phrase that I'm used to hearing but wouldn't use myself.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:26 AM on April 21, 2014

With so many parents, step-parents, former step-parents, etc, I can't think of a better way of describing a family group as "my folks."

I'm from California, it doesn't strike me as odd at all. I have lived a lot of places though.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:26 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've heard it all my life, in Western (not CA) and Midwestern rural areas. The only time I think it sounds a bit out of place is when a politician or public figure is trying to impress the audience with how down-home and non-pretentious they are. In everyday conversation--I'd never think twice about it.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:27 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Small town Alaskan. I don't think I've ever used "folks" to refer to my parents, but it sounds normal to me.
posted by rhapsodie at 9:28 AM on April 21, 2014

lived in NFLD, TN, WI and MN I've heard it in all places... even at college where you get exposed to people from all over. It's informal, but we are increaingly living in an informal world.
posted by edgeways at 9:29 AM on April 21, 2014

I say "my folks" all the time. I don't know if it's from my class or region (southwest and then midwest), or (as feels more likely) I specifically started saying it because "my parents" didn't feel quite right, since I'm most often referring to my mother & stepdad, or my dad & his girlfriend. In the aggregate or in their sets of two, they feel more like "my folks" than "my parents".
posted by theatro at 9:30 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mid-Atlantic here. Entirely common, though perhaps slightly less so than when I was growing up.
posted by valkyryn at 9:31 AM on April 21, 2014

Eastern Canada checking in here. Perfectly normal and I use it often.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:31 AM on April 21, 2014

I'm in Colorado and say it. The only other person I know who says this is from Chicago. No one's ever commented on it, though. Everyone else says "family" or "my parents."
posted by mochapickle at 9:32 AM on April 21, 2014

Georgia here, and while it wouldn't sound strange, it's not really what I've heard people using.
posted by bizzyb at 9:33 AM on April 21, 2014

(My Tennessee grandmother calls them "people," as in, "Her people are from Memphis.")
posted by mochapickle at 9:33 AM on April 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

OK, thinking about it a bit more, I think I do use "my folks" in the sense of "my family back home." As in, "Next week I'm going to visit my folks in California."
posted by muddgirl at 9:34 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've heard it used and would not be confused by it. Personally, though, I say either "my parents," "my mom and dad," or "my family." Never "my folks."

Grew up in the NYC suburbs, adult life so far spent living in New England and the mid-Atlantic states.
posted by tckma at 9:35 AM on April 21, 2014

My dad uses "folks" but nobody else I know does (West Coast of Canada).

However, in a different context, like Tim Wise or Barack Obama referring to people, particularly people of colour, as "folks," it does seem forced and is annoying.
posted by klanawa at 9:36 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

It seems a bit "folksy" - I grew up in central KY (which is essentially the Midwest with horses in my opinion) and I always just heard them called "my parents".
posted by agress at 9:36 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Forgot to say, although it wouldn't come naturally to me to say "my folks" myself and I don't have any friends or relatives that I can think of that use it, it doesn't sound overly informal or like an affectation to me. If a coworker or somebody used it, I think it would come off more as a regional difference like "pop" instead of "soda" or something like that (regardless of whether it actually is a regional difference or not), than as a more informal way of speaking.
posted by treese at 9:37 AM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm from CT and "my folks" is my phrase of choice when referring to visiting my parents, but I can't say that I've noticed a lot of other people using the phrase. I may just not be paying attention.
posted by pemberkins at 9:38 AM on April 21, 2014

southern california native - yes, we say "my folks"
posted by bruce at 9:40 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I use it all the time and it comes 100% naturally, but my background is almost exactly the same as yours: raised in Texas, parents from the Midwest.
posted by MsMolly at 9:40 AM on April 21, 2014

Grew up in the Midwest and live in DC now but I've heard everybody everywhere say both.
posted by discopolo at 9:41 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm from Northern California and the only person I know who says it is my dad, who is from Chicago.
posted by radioamy at 9:41 AM on April 21, 2014

Addendum/clarification to my previous answer: Whenever I've heard "folks" used this way, it always specifically refers to people with a parental relationship (birth, step, adopted, etc.) and not to siblings or extended family. I've heard "my people," as mochapickle mentions, used only in the sense of extended family, often going back several generations.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:41 AM on April 21, 2014

Totally normal phrase; I wouldn't think twice about it if someone said it to me. I am sure that I have used it to refer to my parents, but it's not my default.

I grew up in Maine, and have lived since then in Oregon, Chicago, and New York (both in the city and in western NY).
posted by dizziest at 9:42 AM on April 21, 2014

I do not think I have ever heard someone say this in person. Spent all my time in northeast or California coastal cities, and the only regional phrases I have picked up are New Yorkisms from my mom and grandmother. I think I have only heard that phrasing on TV and books. Comes across as archaic.

Back in the 90s, there was a brief trend in saving a syllable or two referring to "parents" or "family" by referring to "the 'rents", but that has fallen out of fashion.
posted by deanc at 9:43 AM on April 21, 2014

But a California native recently told me that it sounds odd to them, and almost intentionally too-casual. ("Folksy," even!)

Can you be more specific? California is a huge place, larger than many European countries with big divides in language, from North-South to City-Country.
posted by vacapinta at 9:43 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you be more specific? California is a huge place...

The person in question grew up in Redding, way up north, but has lived in the Sacramento area for 20+ years.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:48 AM on April 21, 2014

I say it (grew up in NJ, have lived in Western PA for many years), but it sounds a little weird to me even as I'm saying it. I'm not sure archaic is exactly right for how it feels off to me, but folksy is close. Too casual for some uses. If I caught myself in time in a work setting, I'd change it to "my family" or "my parents" depending on context. But having said that, I don't think I'd notice at all if someone else used "my folks."
posted by Stacey at 9:50 AM on April 21, 2014

My husband says "my folks" and he grew up in California (SF Bay area), and it has always sounded weird to me. I say "my parents" and I grew up in Massachusetts (near Boston).
posted by disaster77 at 9:51 AM on April 21, 2014

Grew up in PA (suburbs of Philadelphia) and NJ, and live in the DC area. Stacey's experience is the same as mine pretty much. I hear it around, though don't use it myself, but it comes off to my ear as a bit too casual/borderline folksy for some uses. It would not bother me at all if I knew someone who said it regularly though, and I would not say anything to people who use it. (It kind of reads to me like the soda vs. pop thing - not a great comparison but the only one I can come up with.)
posted by gudrun at 9:58 AM on April 21, 2014

NYC native, I say "my folks".
posted by nicwolff at 9:59 AM on April 21, 2014

I grew up in SE Virginia and now live in DC. I say "my parents" (and most people I know seem to as well), but "my folks" is common enough that I wouldn't bat an eye at it.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:03 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Grew up in Upstate NY, lived in Central NJ for the last 20 years - would never say "my folks", and I don't usually hear other people say it either. I would say "my family."
posted by lyssabee at 10:04 AM on April 21, 2014

Grew up in the Boston area, have lived in NYC for 15 years, would probably not say "my folks" because of how complicated my parent situation is, but wouldn't think anything of someone else using it. Sounds totally normal to me, neutral-leaning-toward-affectionate.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:09 AM on April 21, 2014

Born and raised in Massachusetts. I hear people say it from time to time. I have said it from time to time. But perhaps it is not as common as saying parents. So it doesn't sound strange to me.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 10:12 AM on April 21, 2014

It seems a bit "folksy" - I grew up in central KY (which is essentially the Midwest with horses in my opinion) and I always just heard them called "my parents".
posted by agress at 12:36 PM on April 21

I grew up in south-central KY, and have heard:

* My parents
* My family = parents + sibs, or spouse + children
* My folks = immediate family + extended family
* My people = everyone you could possibly be related to by blood. As in, "His people have owned that farm for generations" or "Is she some of your people?"
* Some of us = everyone you could possibly be related to by blood. Rarely used by older generations, usually in the inquiry, "Is she some of us?" ("Is she a relative, however distant?"; see also "some of your people")). Also occasionally used by older African-Americans to inquire about race, as in "Is Maya Rudolph some of us? She looks it."

I've heard "folks" used easily as often as I've heard "family" or "parents" used.
posted by magstheaxe at 10:15 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if age matters here, because I've lived in a lot of the places mentioned in this thread (East Coast - Southeastern US, NYC, New England), and I think saying "my folks" is really weird. I very rarely hear it, and on the few occasions I have, it's usually someone 50 or up, and I've heard it more since meeting people who grew up in more rural areas.

And, because I am super judge-y, my reaction is to inwardly roll my eyes and think something like, "Folks? What, did you grow up on the prairie, half-pint?" But, lucky for you, I am apparently in the minority, and I would try not to hold my own churlishness against you!
posted by lesli212 at 10:19 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am in the Los Angeles area and started using the phrase after hearing it from a family from Georgia.
What I liked about it is that it doesn't make any presumptions about who is included--if there is only a Mom or only a Dad or both parents at home--it always fits.

It helped me to use this phrase after my dad died.
I didn't want to be so clear that my mom and brother were at the house and not my dad anymore.
posted by calgirl at 10:29 AM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Grew up in (urban) Texas, Texans on both sides for a number of generations, and "my folks" is perfectly normal if, as some suggest, a bit informal. I've also lived in NJ and run into a lot of judgey people who don't know or get "folksy" talk; my husband used to get teased at work for "that old dog won't hunt" and similar sayings. I don't think either of us ever got explicitly dinged for saying "my folks" to anyone, but I wouldn't be surprised if the judgey people were, well, silently judgey.
posted by immlass at 10:32 AM on April 21, 2014

Atlanta, raised in SC - I use it and hear it used a lot. I also like it because with blended families it is more accurate feeling than "parents".
posted by pointystick at 10:33 AM on April 21, 2014

Deep roots in the midwest, and have heard it all my life. It does, for me, refer specifically to one's parents, rather than extended family generally.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:37 AM on April 21, 2014

I grew up in Minnesota and am currently living in South Dakota, where I heard and hear both. I personally use both "folks" and "parents" interchangeably and never thought the former sounded "folksy" until I started paying attention to portrayals of midwesterners, hayseeds, hicks, etc.
posted by pepper bird at 10:39 AM on April 21, 2014

Born and raised in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

I don't use "my folks," but it sounds completely normal to me. It wouldn't even stand out as a regional speech difference. I will say, though, that is does sound fairly casual to me. I might think it a little odd if someone said it to their boss at a suit-and-tie kind of office, but certainly not enough to comment on.

Edited to add: It's the same kind of casual as "Mom" rather than "Mother." If I worked at a fairly formal office, I'd say mother when referring to her, rather than mom. Same goes for folks vs parents. In everyday conversation, though, both mom and folks would be totally appropriate.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 10:43 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm also from and live in California and can't think of anyone I've known here that says "my folks".

I'm from and live in (Southern) California and I say this but it's definitely an affectation I picked up from someone when I was much younger, maybe because it sounded much more mature to me than "parents" or maybe I was just being obnoxious (or both.) "Folks" is not something I ever really heard in the wild.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:44 AM on April 21, 2014

To me the expression sounds kind of "folksy" (sorry) or small town or old fashioned or something. Except in black dialect, in which it just sounds like it refers to people or racial groups (black folks, white folks, etc.) in a general way.

I grew up in Charlotte, NC and have lived in Ithaca, NY, Boston, MA and Chapel Hill, NC and wouldn't refer to my parents as my folks unless I was trying to sound like someone else.
posted by mermily at 10:45 AM on April 21, 2014

Folks is the equivalent of Y'all, but you need a few more non-blended together words to be understood.

"Where are you folks from?" vs. "Where y'all from?"
"You folks have a nice day. Come back soon." vs. "Y'all come back now, you hear?"
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:03 AM on April 21, 2014

The term "my folks" to refer specifically to one's parents has always sounded sort of down-home and antiquated, to me. Sort of like people who say "How's your boy?" rather than "How's your son?" I do associate it with Texas, now that you mention it, or maybe other West/Midwest areas like Oklahoma, Missouri, etc.

It kind of goes hand in hand with expressions like "take a load off and set a spell" or "let him alone" or "god willin and the crick don't rise", to me.

I'm from Louisiana (so, the Deep South, but a linguistically quirky part of it) and would never say this. However, I'm also a "town" kid, from a place where more rural people would speak with a Cajun-influenced dialect that doesn't include expressions like those I mentioned above.
posted by Sara C. at 11:08 AM on April 21, 2014

California, with Midwestern parents, and I say it all the time.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:13 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Western NY state -- I use it all the time, and I am not alone.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:15 AM on April 21, 2014

My parents' home number is in my phone as "Folks". To me it directly implies parents, whereas the more Southern term "people" is for extended family. As in "My folks are in East Tennessee, but my Momma's people were from Alabama."

It's also a heck of a lot easier than having "Mom & Dad" in the contact list.

It's pretty casual, but then again, I don't typically discuss family with strangers all that much either.
posted by teleri025 at 11:18 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Grew up in Michigan, this feels like very common usage. It can also refer to extended family as well.
posted by HuronBob at 11:28 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm from Houston and don't find it odd at all. I don't say it, but I know people who do. My dad is from Louisiana though and has many colorful sayings that I've never heard anywhere else, so my feelings about it could be skewed.

My partner was born and raised in DC and says it all the time and I don't think anyone thinks it is strange. Her parents are the opposite of folksy, so I'm not sure where she picked it up, but it's definitely not an affectation.
posted by vakker at 11:29 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't use it but it doesn't strike me as odd, and I suspect my midwestern father used it and I think a very midwestern friend of mine (now in California) uses it often.
posted by jaguar at 11:42 AM on April 21, 2014

Growing up in London, UK and having lived in several different regions, it wouldn't sound odd at all in any of them.
posted by Magnakai at 11:45 AM on April 21, 2014

Grew up either in the DC/VA suburbs or overseas, almost 40, one parent from Missouri and one from another country, now living in the Midwest. I've used it and have heard others say it and it always passes as unmarked unless someone is playing up their accent for effect or something. Never thought of it as particularly folksy in the same "that dog won't hunt" vein.
posted by PussKillian at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2014

I grew up in Philadelphia and have lived in Tennessee, Texas and Southern California. Folks is definitely used in all those places. My husband's family of origin has people from most of the big urban locations in coastal California - they all use the word folks. (Yesterday, probably 15 of my relatives asked me "How are your folks" or "When are your folks coming to visit.")
posted by 26.2 at 11:54 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Grew up in CO (where both of my parents are from) and didn't refer to them as "my folks" until .. I moved to northern CA. I picked it up there (dunno which person, though).
posted by nat at 12:09 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, I've heard it all my life growing up in Los Angeles.
posted by feste at 12:09 PM on April 21, 2014

Lifelong midwesterner - grew up in northern Illinois, college in Wisconsin, moved to Iowa, then back to Wisconsin - and to me "my folks" is something I've heard people say on TV but very rarely in real life. Just saying it in my head right now, it almost automatically has a southern accent.

If a coworker used it, I don't think it'd strike me as odd but I think I'd have a similar sense as your coworker that it feels overly casual. Looking at the other answers so far, it seems like it's a regionalism in that it's used almost everywhere but the specific parts of the midwest I'm from?
posted by augustimagination at 12:12 PM on April 21, 2014

Edited to add:

[Periodic gentle reminder for everybody, please do not use the edit function to expand comments. Just add another comment to the thread.]

posted by cortex at 12:13 PM on April 21, 2014

Former Navy brat here; grew up up& down both coasts, with an emphasis on New England and the mid-Atlantic states. I think I'm slightly more likely to use 'parents' than 'folks' in conversation, but both sound fine and normal to me.
posted by easily confused at 12:32 PM on April 21, 2014

Another old world perspective: I say "folks" a lot to refer to my parents and I've heard plenty of other people using it in the same way. I'm in the UK.
posted by neilb449 at 12:37 PM on April 21, 2014

Is some of the feeling that it is very casual or informal maybe due in part to some influence/connotations of the other uses of the word "folks"? Some of the other uses that people have mentioned here do seem more informal to me.

(1) "my folks" = "my parents". This doesn't seem particularly informal to me (no more than "mom" instead of "mother", as someone mentioned above), even though I don't use it myself.

(2) "my (your/her/etc). folks" = "my extended family". This usage does seem pretty informal.

(3) "you folks" = "you group of people that I'm talking to", as in "can I get you folks anything else?". To me the natural way to say this would be "you guys", regardless of gender, but I have heard "you folks" used in this way in California (and it doesn't seem regional the way "y'all" does). This doesn't seem informal to me.

(4) "folks" = "people", as used by politicians. This can seem informal in an inauthentic/annoying way when used in a political speech.
posted by treese at 12:56 PM on April 21, 2014

I'm 31, born in California, currently living in Atlanta and grew up here. I wouldn't bat an eye if/when someone referred to their parents as their "folks", though I don't know if I've ever said it myself. The more I think about it, it seems like the kind of thing someone ELSE says to you (maybe because they can't remember your mom and dad's names, or if you even have both parents, or if one is a step): "Hey, how's your folks?" or "Haven't seen your folks in a while". I seem to recall it as being said a lot by adults to children, but I still have trouble thinking of myself as an adult so take that with a grain of salt! I think I mostly don't say it myself because I never know how prominent to make the "L" when I say it!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 12:58 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use "folks" as "parents" all the time (both to refer to my own parents and to other people's parents, but generally only for people I know well -- that is, I would probably refer to a friend's parents as her folks, but would probably refer to an acquaintance's parents as her parents). I occasionally use "folks" as a sort of version of "y'all" when addressing a group of people, but not very frequently. I grew up in Wyoming and Colorado and currently live in Los Angeles.
posted by scody at 1:09 PM on April 21, 2014

40+ years in Los Angeles. I probably say it as much as I say parents.

If I think about it, I maybe say it more now than when I was younger. My "parents" sounds like I live with them. My "folks," less so.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 1:21 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

From Los Angeles, as are my parents. One US born grandparent was from NYC, the other from DC. The other two were raised in Cleveland and NYC.

I say parents.

Have you checked the Dictionary of American Regional English?
posted by brujita at 1:23 PM on April 21, 2014

Western New Yorker who has now lived half my life in the southeast. I say "parents" but don't even blink when someone says "my folks." It doesn't sound folksy at all to me - it's the less formal version of parents. (If you said "folk" like "kinfolk" I'd think you just walked out of an Appalachian interpretive history play, but "folks" is just fine.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 1:38 PM on April 21, 2014

I'm a Coloradan who is originally from Texas and have some of the typical speech patterns. I use "my folks" routinely to refer to my parents and "folks" often to refer to groups of people generally -- "folks I've met", "folks at work", "folks who are trans", whatever. I don't think as I've ever noticed anyone seeming to find that usage unusual, whereas I have noted that people not infrequently find my use of "Cokes" odd and occasionally comment on my use of "y'all" (which I contend is unavoidable as it fills an essential hole in the language).
posted by sparktinker at 1:52 PM on April 21, 2014

I'm a native Seattleite and I use the word folks without irony or whimsy. My husband actually noticed that I tend to refer to one set of my (divorced) parents as "folks" and the other as "parents". It's just useful to have two words that mean basically the same thing.

I've never really noticed if other people use "folks" too or if I'm unusual in that.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:10 PM on April 21, 2014

I grew up in Texas and do not refer to my parents as "folks" but I've heard it a lot and I would not judge it one way or another.
posted by furiousthought at 2:12 PM on April 21, 2014

I don't think I've ever used the term "folks" and I rarely hear anyone else use it. I'm from Chicago and in my 30s.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:32 PM on April 21, 2014

Mid-30s, born in NY, grew up mostly in NC with Yankee parents, lived in the Carolinas, Austin, and Chicago. I use "folks" and "parents" almost interchangeably. If I were in a very formal situation I'd probably go for "parents", but other than that it's whichever comes to the tip of my tongue first, and folks using "folks" wouldn't get any positive or negative judgement from me in any situation.

But this usage is only for "folks" exclusively limited to "parents". If you said "my folks" and you were referring to your extended family that would seem very odd to me. For family as a whole I generally reach for "my family", but I am not unfamiliar with the usage of "people", as cited above: "Where are your people from?" It's not something I'd do myself, and it does feel a little bit country, but wouldn't throw me nearly as much as using "folks" to refer to the whole family.
posted by jammer at 2:47 PM on April 21, 2014

This has been really interesting to me. Thanks for all your input.

By a rough and loose count, here's a tally from people in this thread:

Uses "folks" to mean parents: 29 (well, plus me, so 30)
Does not use "folks" to mean parents, but does not find it weird: 35
Does not use "folks" and thinks the language IS weird: 7
Regardless of opinion stated above, finds the usage informal: 10
Regardless of opinion stated above, finds the usage to be archaic or antiquated: 2

Region doesn't seem to be a deciding factor.

I'm maybe more curious now than I was before, but I appreciate all of the info.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:55 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am completely guessing, but I wonder if it maps a bit on more parts of the country heavily settled by Germanic-language immigrants, as some sort of variations on Volk?
posted by jaguar at 3:45 PM on April 21, 2014

Maybe. You know, I was just thinking... I say it and my brother doesn't (and we grew up in the same places), so I'm wondering if it's perhaps more of a social vocabulary than a geographic one... (Our vocabularies are wildly different.)
posted by mochapickle at 4:39 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

A broader discussion on the folksiness of 'folks'.

It's a longstanding part of Appalachian vocabulary, but as the above link shows, it's got a long, long lineage in English.

I have a strong sense of it as Southern and related to AAVE, but I haven't been able to support that with any real evidence. I use it all the time, but I have enough Southern family that I'm well given to Foghorn Leghorn circumlocutions, despite being a Midwest transplant in Ca.
posted by klangklangston at 6:17 PM on April 21, 2014

I'm with Metroid Baby: my folks are the 'rents. My (your) people are extended family, maybe or especially the older generations from which the folks descended. This has been common usage everywhere I've been.

(raised in central PA and CO, lived in ID most of my life)
posted by BlueHorse at 8:16 PM on April 21, 2014

Bostonian here. I've never used the word "folks" to refer to my parents or anyone else's parents. I have heard it used here but admittedly it sounds kind of country to me. My Ohioan friend said it frequently but I don't think any of my native New Englander friends use that term.
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:45 PM on April 21, 2014

23, born and raised in Houston, and my parents both spent the vast majority of their lives here. I use and hear it on occasion and understand it to be "my parents", but I mostly say "my parents". When I hear "my family", I think of siblings (if any) to be included at the very least, if not out to cousins, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc. depending on context. Agreeing with some above comments that I would find "folks" as "extended family" to be unusual. I don't often (ever?) use "folk/s" to refer to "those people"... perhaps tellingly, the first example that jumps to mind is "city folk".

My Ohioan boyfriend mostly refers to parents as "folks".

(I have now seen the word "folks" so many times it looks weird.)
posted by jorlyfish at 9:58 PM on April 21, 2014

Bi-coastal Californian here, DC native. My parents (from Kansas) use this expression, maybe that's why I never do, a habit reenforced later on when learning of Nazi preoccupations with things volkish.
posted by Rash at 10:25 AM on April 22, 2014

My background: grew up in Palo Alto, spent my junior high and high school years in Chico, a year in Santa Cruz, back to the Palo Alto area for a couple of years, spent three years in San Francisco, and have lived in Oakland for the past 20+ years.

I use the term "my folks" all the time. Reflection based on some of the above comments, however, makes me realize that I use it to refer to my father and stepmother. "My parents" would feel utterly wrong and inappropriate. I have no idea if alternate-universe me whose parents were still married would call them "my folks".
posted by Lexica at 9:01 PM on April 22, 2014

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