The Etymological Evolution of Dude, from Dandy Man to Anyone
April 6, 2012 10:24 AM   Subscribe

"Dude" is a term with quite a history, possibly starting in the mid 19th century with Erastus Brooks, an editor of the New York Express (NYT excerpt, link to full PDF). In writing, "the "dude" craze began in New York City in 1883," apparently starting with the poem The True Origin and History of "The Dude", published on 14 January 1883, in the New York World. As the "vapid fops" traveled west, dude ranches sprang up, catering to city slickers. Some eight decades after the term proliferated in New York City, "dude" was applied to any male in African American vernacular. In 1969, dude was defined as nice guy, a regular sort of person [YT short clip] in Easy Rider, then claimed by surfers, as represented by Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High in 1982. Four years later, everyone loves Ferris Bueller, "he's a righteous dude." Baseketball turns the one word into a conversation in 1998, the same year El Duderino claims the term as a personal title. By 2011, the word, in some circles, has come around to the beginning, with Dude-itors, laid-back editors, the opposite of the "tightly wound, hyper-neurotic editor of yesteryear."

The birth of the word itself is hard to pin down, though some cite "Yankee Doodle Dandy" as the origin (12th comment down), with relation to the older term "dandy", and "doodle" being truncated to a single syllable of "dood" or "dude."

In the 1870s, "dude" popped up in scattered writings, as the nickname for one "Dude" Collins in 1976 in Ohio, and the following year Frederic Remington wrote of dudes as the opposite of "Indians, cowboys, villains or toughs." Likewise, "dude soldiers" were soft individuals, mentioned in Fighting Indians in the 7th United States Cavalry: Custer's favorite regiment, which was published by Ami Frank Mulford in 1879. That same year, Eatons' Ranch opened in North Dakota, and friends from the East began to visit them almost immediately. With this, Eatons' Ranch claims the title of the first "dude ranch."

As cited above the break, Barry Popik found an explosion of dude or dood in 1883 in New York City, with a number of articles and similar definitions published around that time. One definition, printed in February in the New York Mirror, is as follows:
For a correct definition of the expression the anxious inquirer has only to turn to the tight-trousered, brief-coated, eye-glassed, fancy-vested, sharp-toes shod, vapid youth who abounds in the Metropolis at present. He is a Dood.
The Mirror was correct foretelling the popularity of the term overtaking Masher, though the spelling "dude" won out. Along with the articles, a number of cartoons were published, depicting various forms of dudes. The male dude was soon paired with dudette, as published 28 April 1883, in the Brooklyn Sunday Eagle. Two other female forms, dudine and dudess, have since faded.

Citations for "dude" in the urban slang in the 1950s and 60s are harder to find online, but especially as the term has become more widely used by more people. Dude plays a large role in surfer lingo, with various derivative forms ("dode" is a poser, "donk" is a stupid dude, "nardude" is a sculpted dude, and so on).

Beyond print and movies, Dude is referenced in song. In 1972, David Bowie wrote All The Young Dudes for Mott the Hoople, which Bowie penned not as a hymn to the youth, but the terrible news of the impending doom of earth. In '74, Steely Dan released Any Major Dude Will Tell You on the album Pretzel Logic. Aerosmith wrote Dude (Looks Like a Lady) in 1987, after hanging out with Mötley Crüe, who said Dude a lot.
posted by filthy light thief (55 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
Abide.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:25 AM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Calmer than you are.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:27 AM on April 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


SWEET.
posted by argonauta at 10:29 AM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Big Lebowski came out fourteen years ago? Mother of fuck.
posted by griphus at 10:30 AM on April 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


hey dude I saw you nude/
don't fake it I saw you naked

posted by drjimmy11 at 10:30 AM on April 6, 2012


I am proud to say that I have never referred to anyone as "dude" casually or unironically.

Also: no TV, generally kind of a snob, etc.
posted by univac at 10:31 AM on April 6, 2012


When I was in grade school, the music teacher (who was also choir director at a local Baptist church) went into a sudden ferocious tirade in front of my class one day over someone's use of the word "dude". His premise was that the word come from "dude ranch", and that it means "donkey" and, thus, you were calling someone a "donkey" when you said "dude". The guy was screaming at us over it.

Of course, even our innocent minds knew that he really meant "ass".

Dude was a flaming dude.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:31 AM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


No Quincy Jones?

The album.

The you tube.

"Jones has been married three times and has seven children" <- the wikipedia extract.
posted by bukvich at 10:33 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to never use the word, but I've come around. I call my wife "dude" a lot.
posted by OmieWise at 10:34 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


an explosion of dude or dood in 1883 in New York City

So that's what that smell is.

(Awesome post, dude.)
posted by DU at 10:36 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am proud to say that I constantly refer to everyone as 'dude' casually and unironically.

Also: lots of TV, generally kind of a slob etc
posted by jonmc at 10:38 AM on April 6, 2012 [25 favorites]


So that's what that smell is.

No, that was New Jersey.
posted by griphus at 10:39 AM on April 6, 2012


"Dude" is the great equalizer. If you call someone "Dude" it means you are on the level with them. It's real.

If you have never called someone a dude, even in jest, and you were alive at least in the 80s, I ... I don't know what to say to you.
posted by symbioid at 10:39 AM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Back when I was a wee man (mid-'80s) there was an oft-used phrase going around concerning how "dude" originated as a term for the dried poop stuck in an elephant's butt hair. And everyone knows that kids running around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are/were the authority on etymology.
posted by mr. digits at 10:41 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


.....dude?
posted by The Whelk at 10:42 AM on April 6, 2012


If you have never called someone a dude, even in jest, and you were alive at least in the 80s, I ... I don't know what to say to you.

I found myself saying "Dude" in that tone of voice that implies (Are you kidding me?) to my client recently. Thank god it was over a beer after work and not at his company.
posted by infini at 10:43 AM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am proud to say that I constantly refer to everyone as 'dude' casually and unironically. - me too.

So...I was a teenager in the late 80s & early 90s. In southern California. I called everybody dude. Everybody, except maybe my mom. I was in Academic Decathlon, and our coach, also my mentor and favorite teacher, was hugely pregnant. At some point, I called her "dude", and she called me out on it. "Do I look like a dude to you?" [abashed face] "Ummm, no, Mrs. N. Sorry." I didn't call dude anymore, and to be honest, it faded a bit out of my vocabulary for a while, because it was such a mortifying moment.

But I still say dude a lot. (And I love that conversation in Baseketball. I think I've even had that conversation.)

OTOH, I've never been able to get into The Big Lebowski. Just doesn't do anything for me.
posted by epersonae at 10:49 AM on April 6, 2012


If you have never called someone a dude, even in jest, and you were alive at least in the 80s, I ... I don't know what to say to you.

Gag me with a spoon ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:51 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I pretty much stopped using the word "dude" when on a date night my wife and I actually paid to see "Dude, where's my car?" when there were only front row seats left to the film we really wanted to see.

The conversation whilst walking home:

Dude, that film sucked.

You're right about that dude

Dude, can you believe we spent money on that?

Never again dude. Never again.
posted by three blind mice at 10:55 AM on April 6, 2012


I heard the word dude & I became unglued.
Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch
And put my hands around his neck, and I squeezed...
DON'T CALL ME DUDE!
posted by Wolfdog at 11:02 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ha, I love Dude, Where's My Car.

Zoltan
posted by adamdschneider at 11:05 AM on April 6, 2012


My girlfriend is ordained as a Dudeist Priest in the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. I shall be forwarding her this thread.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:06 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you've ever wanted a solid 30 seconds of people saying "Dude" in the German dub of Dude, Where's My Car, your chariot awaits.
posted by Copronymus at 11:10 AM on April 6, 2012


For a correct definition of the expression the anxious inquirer has only to turn to the tight-trousered, brief-coated, eye-glassed, fancy-vested, sharp-toes shod, vapid youth who abounds in the Metropolis at present. He is a Dood.

So, basically, hipsters.
posted by Scientist at 11:10 AM on April 6, 2012


My stepson calls his father "Dad", and me "Dude".
posted by monospace at 11:10 AM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also use dude all the time. for me it is also gender neutral.

and non-species specific (for example, I call chipmunks little dude. "hey little dude, good to see you again" upon first sighting this year. yeah, I'm a dork)
posted by evening at 11:11 AM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wolfdog: I heard the word dude & I became unglued.
Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch
And put my hands around his neck, and I squeezed...
DON'T CALL ME DUDE!


Huh. I did not know the classic Niagara Falls bit had been turned into a song.
posted by gilrain at 11:14 AM on April 6, 2012


Gag me with a spoon ?

Urgh grody to the max


departs hurriedly before further evidence of prehistoric life emerges
posted by infini at 11:23 AM on April 6, 2012


Back when I was a wee man (mid-'80s) there was an oft-used phrase going around concerning how "dude" originated as a term for the dried poop stuck in an elephant's butt hair. And everyone knows that kids running around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are/were the authority on etymology.
posted by mr. digits
Back when I was a wee lass (late-80s) I remember "dude" as a term for a hair on an elephant's butt. That was in Minnesota.

It's like the telephone game but delayed!
posted by jillithd at 11:26 AM on April 6, 2012


That should be 1876 for "Dude" Collins, right?
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:29 AM on April 6, 2012


I've just realised to my horror that I've stated to occasionally use the tern 'dude' myself after associating with Americans and other colonials on the internets. Sufficiently chastened I shall return to 'my dear fellow' forthwith.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:33 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Good to know there's some historic context for "d00d".
posted by bbuda at 11:38 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"All duded up for Saturday night"

-Bruce Springsteen, "Spirits in the Night"
posted by mmrtnt at 11:54 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Forgetting not Dave the Dude, from the immortal Damon Runyon.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:00 PM on April 6, 2012


The title of this post could have been "Duderonomy"
posted by mmrtnt at 12:05 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw what you dood there...
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:10 PM on April 6, 2012


Don Knotts says, 'The Dude is another tough truck from Dodge.'
posted by box at 12:11 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My trombone is The Dude
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:32 PM on April 6, 2012


Scientist: "For a correct definition of the expression the anxious inquirer has only to turn to the tight-trousered, brief-coated, eye-glassed, fancy-vested, sharp-toes shod, vapid youth who abounds in the Metropolis at present. He is a Dood.

So, basically, hipsters.
"

Nah - metrosexual. If there's one thing that hipsters aren't, it's "fancy-vested"... They surely are vapid youth, but the original dudes were more classy than that, methinks.

(or wait, were dandy fops the hipsters of their day?) Please don't tell me that 200 years from now people will look back on oversized sunglasses and trucker hats as "fancy dress"... please.
posted by symbioid at 12:36 PM on April 6, 2012


"Dude" is a fundamental part of the Canadian Parliamentary language.
posted by aclevername at 12:59 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was a wee man in the 60s and the term then was "man" -- applied to both sexes. C'mon man, why are you sayin' "dude" all the time? I still say "man" to my dog (not "dawg", which is a man.)
posted by binturong at 1:13 PM on April 6, 2012


me: Hey dude! How ya doin'?

she: I'm not a dude, I'm a dudette.

me: Sorry, to me your a dude.

she: ???

me: It's a state of mind, not of gender!

she: ???

me: Dude, why doesn't anybody get this?
posted by ashbury at 1:40 PM on April 6, 2012


Aaaah! I swear to god, I've been working on a post just like this, about the history of "dude." Dang it, filthy light thief! Not cool, dude. Not cool!

(Actually, very cool. Nice job, dude.)
posted by mothershock at 1:43 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


A number of years ago I worked with someone named York who called everyone "dude". We ended up calling him ... The Dude of York.
posted by ShooBoo at 2:24 PM on April 6, 2012


mothershock, please add anything I left out. There are more interesting trails not yet pursued in this post.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:38 PM on April 6, 2012


It tickles me to no end that there are more than 100,000 ordained Dudeist priests in the world.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:09 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, dude totally transcends gender/age/level of familiarity. The list of people I have called dude includes my late mom, my boss, small children, pets, this one really annoying pigeon that appears to have made a nest on my a/c, the Dalai Lama, and all of you.
posted by elizardbits at 6:43 PM on April 6, 2012


The Big Lebowski came out fourteen years ago?

1992 - Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" takes on GnR's "November Rain" and Ice Cube's "Cop Killer"?

Remember how ancient and weird 1972 seemed to us then?

There is exactly the same span of time separating the early '70s from the early '90s... as there is separating the early '90s from now.

If you'll excuse me, I need to sit in a dark room for a while... (and listen to Ministry.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:55 PM on April 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


This post could be a book along the lines of The Compleat Motherfucker.
posted by Lillitatiana at 7:52 PM on April 6, 2012


Slap*Happy, I think about that a lot too, but with this added: 1992 and 2012 are still in conversation with each other in a way that 1972 and 1992 weren't. Call it generational drivers, or whatever: but 1972 (Bowie, Neil Young, Yes and Jethro Tull, for me) was followed by disco, punk, new wave, rap and hip hop, techno, etc., all of which started their own conversations and all of which made the popular music scene more and more fine-grained. The Pixies still sound relevant; My Bloody Valentine still sounds relevant; Stereolab still sounds relevant (to me, anyway). Popular music has fractalized, and I see less of an expectation that one new band, or one new sound, will come along and change the conversation overall (perhaps Nirvana was the last one?). 13 year olds are listening to Joy Division, and all of popular music is at their fingertips (I don't even want to think about how hard it was to really find out about new music in the mid-70s; you had to actually know people with jobs at record stores or excellent collections). That same 13 year old is going to look at pictures of Nirvana, and recognize their style, which is still alive. 1972 in 1992 was another world; 1992 from 2012 is still part of the world that popular culture is living in today.

Of course this may just be because I'm getting older.
posted by jokeefe at 7:57 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has no dude among you claimed Vapid Fops for the name of their next band?


Bitchin'.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:08 PM on April 6, 2012


December 8, 1885 Tuesday. 9:45 P.M. Did not go to the office tonight. Am getting to be a great “non-suiter!” Threw another plaintiff out of court today, the fourth within the past ten days.

Reasons why I should turn out a mustache: I am old enough. My associates all have them. It would give me more the appearance of maturity than I now have. It is a good thing to toy with when one is embarrassed and his hands are in the way. Might add to my appearance. It is customary. It would save time devoted to shaving. It would afford my friends so much pleasure, they would never be in want for a subject for teasing me.

Reasons why I should not turn out a mustache: I would then be deprived of one of my most agreeable pastimes, shaving. Somebody might say “shoot the dude.” A mustache insists on bathing in one’s tea at table. It requires months to bring it to that degree of perfection to permit the owner to appear in polite circles. It is a source of continual petty surprise and annoyance, to one not accustomed to it. It is not an essential and never an accompaniment of beauty, else women would have them. How would the statues of Jupiter or Apollo look with mustaches?

Reasons why I am not going to turn out a mustache: I can’t (id est nondum).
posted by Naiad at 10:04 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Datapoint: some of my friends circa 1989 or thereabouts insisted that a "dude" was an ingrown hair on a cow's butt. game of telephone indeed. When you play the game of telephones, you win...or you die.
posted by aydeejones at 3:10 AM on April 7, 2012


The Big Lebowski - Every Single Fucking Dude
posted by kirkaracha at 4:50 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dewd.
posted by deborah at 5:01 PM on April 7, 2012


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