Dude, where's my safely heterosexual intimacy?
December 8, 2004 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Deconstructing Dude A linguist from the University of Pittsburgh has published a scholarly paper deconstructing and deciphering the word "dude," contending it is much more than a catchall for lazy, inarticulate surfers, slackers and teenagers. An admitted dude-user during his college years, Scott Kiesling said the four-letter word has many uses, all of which express closeness between men in a safely heterosexual manner. How about you? Do you do the dude? If so, does that mean you're white [PDF]?
posted by owenville (32 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how I got through that FPP with only a passing link to the Big Lebowksi, but I did. Here's another, advertising the Lebowski Fest West.
posted by owenville at 8:58 AM on December 8, 2004

My sweetie has a very clean cut, non surfer-slacker friend who greets each and every male he meets with a brisk Hey Dude, how ya doin'.... It gets on my nerves.

I think I'm going to send him this.
posted by anastasiav at 9:00 AM on December 8, 2004

If I understand it, that's a Swiss watch of a scholarly study.
posted by veedubya at 9:04 AM on December 8, 2004

Unfortunately the article dosen't address the variations "Duder," "His Dudeness," or "El Duderino" (if you're not into the whole brevity thing).
posted by pardonyou? at 9:11 AM on December 8, 2004

It's times like this I'm proud of my Alma Mater.... Good stuff, owenville!
posted by jefgodesky at 9:16 AM on December 8, 2004

"Dude" also seems to have the sort of ironic usage that "buddy" or "friend" does, referring to people one would rather kick in the teeth than hang out with.

My favorite variation comes from a stoner in high school in '89: "Dude, man!" to refer to something that is awesomely sucky.
posted by Foosnark at 9:20 AM on December 8, 2004

I feel like a read a recent article about whinging and/or the use of Fuck in a similarly "Safely hetero" context. hmm...
posted by shoepal at 9:22 AM on December 8, 2004

posted by c13 at 9:27 AM on December 8, 2004

The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners
posted by driveler at 9:44 AM on December 8, 2004

"Dude" has found a new home in the Midwest. Everyone my age that (mid 20's) that grew up here or has lived here long enought uses "dude" endlessly. See a friend- "Hey Dude!, whats up?". Answer the phone when a friend is calling-"Talk to me Dude" or "Dude, whats going on?" Express suprise- "Dude! what as that?!?"

When we use it, we're not even really refereing to someone as a "dude", its similar to how people use "like"- "It was like, so cool".

My girlfriend who grew up in Oregon even sometimes slips into the midwestern dude mode- "Dude! when are we going to get the livingroom painted?"

Has anyone else noticed this in other places? It doesn't seem to be as prevelant with my friends from other places... or maybe it is and I just don't notice it.
posted by gus at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2004

I'm anything but "safely heterosexual," and I use the word dude all the time.

The topic of the impoverishment of language to express love and friendship between men, however, is quite serious. We've fallen far from the days when Shakespeare, Abe Lincoln, Thoreau, and many others could write sonnets and letters proudly celebrating their passionate love for their male friends.
posted by digaman at 9:52 AM on December 8, 2004

"The Dude is not in. Leave a message after the beep..."

"It takes a minute."



In contrast to using "dude" to keep other men at a safe heterosexual distance, I've seen heterosexual men use "dude" to refer to keep women they deem unappealing at a safe platonic distance.
posted by k7lim at 9:59 AM on December 8, 2004

In my experience, "dude" began its transmogrification in the early 1960s, where the cool response to seeing a friend show up in new or unusual clothes would be to step back, pause a moment, and simply say: "dude." And that would be the end of it. The meaning was not as a noun, but as kind of a semi-ironic adjectival ejaculation. The mass dude-ification of the culture happened through the 1970s, when "dude" gained something of its current use in biker and drug circles, where only jerks and assholes used it. The word burst out into the world at large in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (as the article notes), where I was surprised to see it being used to make the character seem cute and loveable. From there, it became the cliche it is today.
posted by Faze at 10:01 AM on December 8, 2004

I say "dude" a lot. It's a holdover from my high-school stoner days. Once, when I was at a party with some of my girlfreinds grad school freinds, I tried to get a guy's attention, and was "Dude, listen.." and a girl nearby said "Did you just call him 'dude?'" and started laughing uproariously. I don't quite get it to this day.

But it's sort of an equivalent of the British "mate," once a guy calls you dude, he's basically decided you're "one of us," whatever "us" might signify.
posted by jonmc at 10:18 AM on December 8, 2004

All I know is, I used dude all through high school (in California) and college (in Oregon), and fall right back in to using it whenever I hang out with those dudes again. But I certainly don't use it with any regularity in my current place of residence (New York, NY).

Californians still use it unironically. I don't know if that's the case elsewhere.
posted by owenville at 10:31 AM on December 8, 2004

I would say in Canada (Ontario at least) it's become normal to use the word 'dude' but only if it's said at the same volume as everything else you're saying (ie. "how's it going dude?"). As soon as you raise your voice - "dude!" - then we're into the ironic.

Aside: as a kid I remember being told (by other kids) that dude meant "a camel's penis". Anybody else ever hear this?
posted by stinkycheese at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2004 [1 favorite]

In my mid thirties, I found myself spending a lot of time with a crew of 23-24 year old women. To them, "dude" was completely gender-indiscriminate -- it was a term of emphasis, usually negative: "Dude, that sucks." "Dude, don't do that." "Dude, she totally owes you." Etc.
posted by lodurr at 10:42 AM on December 8, 2004

English rules. What other language can be reduced to two words -- "dude" and "fuck" -- and still be intelligible?

"Duuude!" [translation: "Greetings, my friend. How does the morning find you?"]

"Fuck...dude..." ["Poorly, my esteemed comrade, for the Fates have of late dealt me a harsh blow."]

"Dude?" ["Please, share your grievance with me, so that in commiseration I may help you lighten the burden of your woes."]

"Dude..." ["The nature of the calamity which has befallen me is of such enormity that I am left speechless, for mere language hath not the power to encompass such misery."]

"Fuck!" ["S'wounds, this is tragedy indeed! Forthwith, oh boon companion, let us hence to the tavern, that you may drown your cares in a tankard of strong ale."]
posted by KnitWit at 11:09 AM on December 8, 2004

stinkycheese: i've heard that dork means elephant penis... sounds suspiciously similar. experts' discussion

what does a dude ranch have to do with anything? How do the terms relate?
posted by k7lim at 11:25 AM on December 8, 2004

Dude, that was hysterical.

I'm 20 and female and it's a gender-non-specific thing for me, and I also sometimes use it when talking to my boyfriend, especially when he says something not-quite-correct. "Dude, you REALLY think that?"

Some people do make fun of me for saying it. Fuck that, dude.
posted by u.n. owen at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2004

I'm reminded of Rob Schneider's stand-up deconstruction of the word "dude". It was one of the few funny things I've seen the man do.
posted by neckro23 at 11:39 AM on December 8, 2004

from Dude, Where’s My Dude? Dudelicious Dissection, From Sontag to Spicoli, by Ron Rosenbaum:
In some ways, the impetus for studying Dude culture is dual: I feel I’ve grown up (or down) with "dude," having first heard it from the single surfer dude in my high school and then the single surfer dude in my class at Yale (he dropped out freshman year to party with the waves). But there’s also a similar motive to that which prompted Ms. Sontag to investigate the resonances of camp. She opened her "Notes on ‘Camp’" essay with these two sentences:

"Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described. One of these is the sensibility—unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it—that goes by the cult name of ‘Camp.’" (My italics.)

Similarly, Dude has been named, but has Dude—as sensibility—been adequately described? If camp is "a variant of sophistication," Dude might be called a variant of unsophistication. And yet also "hardly identical with it." In fact, it can be, when used ironically as it often is here in New York City, a sophisticated take on unsophistication.
Why Dude now?
posted by paul_smatatoes at 12:31 PM on December 8, 2004 [1 favorite]

I remember hearing that a dude is a hair on an elephant's butt.
posted by euphorb at 12:45 PM on December 8, 2004

My kids sometimes call me Mom Dude, or, Dude Mom. I blush, but it's true.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:47 PM on December 8, 2004

Some more links and commentary on Kiesling's paper can be found here and here.
posted by myl at 4:06 PM on December 8, 2004

Californians still use it unironically. I don't know if that's the case elsewhere.

So true. I can Dude with the best of them-- and it can cover a lot of territory. When my surfin brother comes home from Hawaii-- the telephone conversations are completely: "Duuude. Dude? Dude!"
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:46 PM on December 8, 2004

Mate, what has deconstruction to do with this piece on sociolinguistics?
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:38 PM on December 8, 2004

I found it extremely interesting that he associated Dude with the male closeness/distance thing -- and while he noted that males addressing females was the smallest group, he didn't point out that females use it toward males just as much as they do toward other females. My own experience is that to my closest platonic female friend, I've been "Dude!" (with just a hint of irony, really; and we're both Midwesterners in our 40s) going on a decade now -- and that closeness/distance thing definitely applies in those types of relationships.

A corollary argument could be made that dude falls into the cognate space occupied by other terms of distanced intimacy, such as mate, man (which was generally common for a long time, but fell into disuse after a period of overuse in the 60s), the controversial nigga or (no longer strictly in African American culture) girlfriend.
posted by dhartung at 9:46 PM on December 8, 2004

the controversial nigga

Interesting that you mention this. I have noticed my African-American roomates and their friends using "The N-Word" in the same way that white guys use "Dude."

I don't hear "Dude" come up very often, though.
posted by afroblanca at 10:13 PM on December 8, 2004

Ugghh...I'm a 34 year old professional woman and I say DUDE at least 5000 times a day. It's like breathing - I can't stop. I'm sure I sound like a total idiot. "Dude, when's the meeting?" "Dude, the copier's totally busted." "Oh my god, dude, did you see that?" This is often to 50 and 60 year old women. Jesus.
posted by tristeza at 1:58 PM on December 9, 2004

What's "dude"? Is that like "dude ranch"?
Dude means nice guy. Dude means a regular sort of person.
Captain America said it, dude.
Dude definately indicates a shift into informality.
One does not "Dude" a judge for example. A judge is not a regular sort of person (he is "the Man").
It can also be a plea for informality or a concession to take one's meaning not one's actual (formal) verbiage, dude - c'mon dude - or an indication if not of closeness at least one of empathy: duude?!. (should be an umlat over that last 'u').
posted by Smedleyman at 5:04 PM on December 9, 2004

Scott taught one of the first ling courses at UPitt I ever took, and it was his first year teaching there too. He's a great guy and if this is interesting to you you should check out his dissertation (analyzing fraternity speak) and some of the work he's doing with Professor Curtin on how soon babies recognize male versus female voices.
posted by ifjuly at 9:04 PM on December 9, 2004

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