Most slang terms do not survive very long. They get invented by the young, who toss it aside as soon as it becomes too popular. This, of course, has been going on forever, so the long life of one American piece of slang is striking. The word “dude” has become so much a part of our culture and vocabulary it’s almost hard to imagine life without it. Intelligent Life magazine recently took a closer look at this beloved word, and the following is an excerpt:
Though the term seems distinctly American, it had an interesting birth: one of its first written appearances came in 1883, in the American magazine, which referred to “the social ‘dude’ who affects English dress and the English drawl. The teenage American republic was already a growing power, with the economy booming and the conquest of the West well under way. But Americans in cities often aped the dress and ways of Europe, especially Britain. Hence dude as a dismissive term: a dandy, someone so insecure in his Americanness that he felt the need to act British. It’s not clear where the word’s origins lay. Perhaps its mouth-feel was enough to make it sound dismissive. From the specific sense of dandy, dude spread out to mean an easterner, a city slicker, especially one visiting the West. Many westerners resented the dude, but some catered to him. Entrepreneurial ranchers set up ranches for tourists to visit and stay and pretend to be cowboys themselves, giving rise to the “dude ranch”. By the 1950s or 1960s, dude had been bleached of specific meaning. In black culture, it meant almost any male; one sociologist wrote in 1967 of a group of urban blacks he was studying that “these were the local ‘dudes’, their term meaning not the fancy city slickers but simply ‘the boys’, ‘fellas’, the ‘cool people’.”
Intelligent Life goes on to follow the journey of “dude” from a term of endearment in the black community, to it’s first popping up with white folks, to its first mention in cinema by Jack Nicholson, to its current residence in 2012 — California, youth, cool. To read the entire piece be sure to visit MoreIntelligentLife.com. You can also follow Intelligent Life magazine on Facebook. More Intelligent Life is the online version of Intelligent Life, a lifestyle and culture magazine from The Economist.