A Love Letter to My Favorite Word: DUDE

Illustration for article titled A Love Letter to My Favorite Word: DUDE

Dude. DUDE. Dude, I love the word "dude" so much. It's so versatile. It's so casual yet punchy. It can convey, "I really mean business here!" and "I am a fun type of person who doesn't take life too seriously" in the same syllable. WHILE SKATEBOARDING. It is far superior to "guy," which implies a kind of distance, an aloof anonymity (i.e. "Who farted?" "That guy"); or "man," which is basically your dad (i.e. "Man coming through! Man with testicles and a mustache coming through!").* "Dude" contains multitudes; it rolls off the brain like water; I wield it with instinct, not thought, like an appendage.


So imagine my delight when I came across this Atlantic article about the etymology of the word "dude." RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS:

Dude may be the most Mandarin Chinese word in American English. In Mandarin, depending on how I intone the single syllable ma, I could be saying “mother” (), or I could be saying something as radically distinct as “horse” ().

...So what does the word itself mean? I can tell you what a mother is, and I can tell you what a horse is. But what’s a dude?

Dictionaries struggle with this question. Here, for instance, is Merriam-Webster:

1: a man extremely fastidious in dress and manner: DANDY
2: a city dweller unfamiliar with life on the range; especially: an Easterner in the West
3: FELLOW, GUY—sometimes used informally as a term of address <hey,dude, what’s up>

Seriously, dudes?

The first two definitions are historically accurate, anyway. (As Richard Hill attests in his study “You’ve Come a Long Way, Dude,” by the latter half of the 19th century, the word was “synonymous with dandy, a term used to designate a sharp dresser in the [U.S.] western territories.”) But they’re also entirely archaic. The contemporary use of dude developed in the Pacific Coast surfing culture of the early 1960s, it entered mainstream popular culture in the early ’80s, and it’s persisted, until recently, along the same basic lines.

My love affair with "dude" doesn't have anything to do with dandies or surfing (WHAT IS THAT EVEN**), but it can be traced to two very clear and specific influences:

1) Hey Dude, my favorite TV show. (Circa 1990, not now.***)

2) And Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, my favorite movie. Circa always.

Though "dude" is mainly used sarcastically in Hey Dude (because Mr. Ernst is being a GIANT DORK PROBABLY), in Bill and Ted its full potential really blossoms. Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan—especially Ted, my sweet, simple Ted—use "dude" to convey fear, joy, bewilderment, awe, outrage, brotherhood, heartbreak, concern for Napoleon, being sick of Deacon's bullshit, and the conflicting din of feelings that arises from one's stepmom's hot boobs. It is a master class in "dude." Bill, Ted, and their companions adjust to the novelty of time travel with the greatest of ease, and I have no doubt that "dude"—that ever-ready emotional chimera—was their most potent tool.

Without "dude," we would have no Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski. He would just be "Jeff." And would you watch a movie about a guy named Jeff!?!!!?!?!? I DIDN'T THINK SO.

Without "dude," who would have toppled Rufio's authoritarian child-government?

Without "dude," there would be no Dude, Where's My Car?, which, admittedly, I don't care about that much, but I did laugh. I laughed. Would I have laughed if it had been called, Fellow, Where's My Car? Wait, maybe. Bad example.


Some dudes tell me that I shouldn't say "dude"—that it's not for girls, that it's troublingly phallocentric, that it betrays an atrophied (or worse, congenitally stunted) intellect—and to those people I say dude. DUDE. WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? Dude can be anything you make it. Embrace your power. Embrace the dude.


*Although, fun tip: It can be hilarious to sometimes use "guy" or "man" where you would normally use "dude." Try it at home! Examples: "NOT COOL, GUY." "Getta load of this man over here!"



***Maybe now.

Image by Jim Cooke.


fighting polish, white sox rememberer

I call everyone dude. Guys, ladies, children, adults, any ethnicity. It is the universal noun, and a perfect word.