Its usage among men, especially young men, is ubiquitous. Its appearance in the title of a movie, Dude Where’s My Car , has firmly entrenched it in popular culture – but that is not to say that the usage had been around for a long time before the movie.
With multiple meanings and usage, it should be easy to find out the origins of the word, right? Not really.
According to etymologists (etymologists study the origins of words), monosyllabic words starting with b, d, and g are very difficult to place in terms of their origin. What we know is that the word dude first appeared in a U.S. magazine in 1870. This was the first instance in print, although it could have been used verbally before this incidence, and it’s difficult to trace the word earlier than the nineteenth century.
Initially, the word dude meant an urban man who wasn’t very well-bred, and who displayed uncouth behavior. Soon, the term dude ranch became popular – meaning a guest house in the American country where men from cities could visit to experience the wild west, ride horses, and spend a vacation away from metropolitan madness. Dude ranches are still popular today, catering to all demographics of guests who are looking for a taste of nature with activities like horseback riding, fishing, and hiking.
In the 1960s, the word dude became associated with American surf culture as young people, mostly male, identified themselves with the quest for the perfect wave – and a dose of spirituality, social conscience, and popular art.
Through the 1980s, 1990s, and the present day, dude has found its way into the vernacular of many young people, and older ones too. The word is recognizable and understandable by most – and used by many, regardless of age or socioeconomic background.
One of the most remarkable recent evolutions in the usage of the word dude is its adoption by women. Today, there’s a high chance that you’ll hear college-age women use the word dude to refer to each other or to a group of men and women. The Oxford University Press suggests that the word dude might go in the direction of guys soon enough. In the same way that we use ‘you guys’ to refer to a mixed group, ‘you dudes’ may end up having the same usage.
A good indicator is that college-age women (and slightly older women) are already starting to do so. Many speech patterns have found their way into all demographics of society after being propagated by young women – so it’s likely that the word dude will follow the same pattern.
Comments or questions are welcome.