I was at the orthodontist one morning recently with Child 3. We go there a lot. And after we had been visited by the nurse there was a bit of a hiatus in proceedings while we waited for the doctor to be free. He is normally stunningly efficient but this time he was a little longer; long enough for Child 3 to get bored and to turn to me and ask:
“Mom. Where’s the dude?”
She wasn’t trying to be funny or smart. She was just asking where the guy was. But it was hysterical for me. I really struggled to keep a straight face. I don’t believe that’s a line that would ever, EVER, come out of the mouth of a nine year old girl in the UK. Not in a month of Sundays or in a world with flying pigs. “Where’s the dude?” I’m still laughing now.
But don’t get me wrong. Dude is a great word. I especially like it when Child 2 has got into some sport/game with other kids he doesn’t know. Then they can have whole teams of dudes shouting ‘here, Dude!” and “Pass Dude!” and “Dude – over here.” Love it.
But where does it come from?
My books (The Historical Dictionary of American Slang and American Slang) date the word to the late nineteenth century and define a ‘dude’ as a dandy first and foremost. The Historical Dictionary gives 4 definitions as follows:
1. “an over-refined or effete man or boy who is pretentiously concerned with his clothes, grooming, manners, etc
2. “a soldier newly inducted or arrived” – presumably a hilarious macho insult to the newbies
3. “a foolish or obnoxious fellow”
4. as it is used now in my experience – “a male person, fellow.”
The book of American Slang (4th edition 2008) agrees with definition on but then throws in an odd one, defining a dude as a guest at a Western style ranch. Back to the Historical Dictionary… a Dude ranch is defined as a term popular in the 1920’s for “a ranch operated as a vacation resort for paying guests and tourists.” Is it just me or does that sound a bit dodgy??
Anyhoo, I much prefer the on-line explanation for dude which I found here at Mental Floss and then read more about here at a scholarly site, the Lingua Franca blog from the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Dude, I learnt, (or learned), comes from shortening of word ‘doodle’ in yankee doodle dandy. Of course then I needed to know where that came from and proceeded to lose at least 30 mins of my life to James Cagney (looking very natty at the top of this post), YouTube and the Revolutionary War. Phew.
Here is a portrait of the ultimate British dandy just to round things off. Not that I think anyone would have dared called Beau Brummell a dude – even if he was born about 100 years too early 😉