I am a big fan of the TV answer-and-question show Jeopardy. It’s one of the only game shows where intelligence is actually required. It’s challenging, and I often learn fun facts by watching. The answers and questions are very thoroughly researched, and I trust them to be right.
Well, most of the time.
One of the “Final Jeopardy” questions from last week is pictured above. The category was “four-letter words” and from the clue, I guessed (correctly) that the answer was “What is ‘dude’?”
According to the Jeopardy folks, “dude” (a slang term mocking young men who were overly concerned with keeping up with the latest fashion; also known as “dandies”) was taken as a shortened form of Yankee Doodle Dandy (Doodle was shortened to Dood and later became Dude). They were also called Macaronis, as in the song lyric, “He stuck a feather in his hat, and called it macaroni.”
Wow. That’s great! It just might also be wrong.
The Oxford English Dictionary says dude is “of unknown origin.” The New Oxford American Dictionary says it’s probably from a German dialect word (“dude” or “dudeldop” or “dudendop”), meaning “fool” or “dunce.” Mary Mapes Dodge, editor of the children’s magazine St. Nicholas, which was around from 1873 to 1905, said “The word is undoubtedly from the Scotch duddies (clothes) which crossed into England to become ‘duds’ or ‘dudes’.”
Or it might have come from Yankee Doodle Dandy. And the Jeopardy folks might be right. But no one really knows for sure.
Of course, the meaning of “dude” has changed since it became popular in the late 1800’s. From the foppish, feather-in-his-cap-wearing dandy, dude became a term for a city slicker visiting the American west and being noticeably out of place. That’s where we got the term “dude ranch,” for all those city folk who wanted a taste of cowboy (and cowgirl) life.
Then, in the early 1960’s or thereabouts, the west coast surfer culture turned dude into a term for any male, any regular guy (and “dudette” was, in some places, the female equivalent). Today, “dude” can be equally applied to any man or woman. And the mocking tone is gone. You can be a cool dude.
“Dude!” is also a very useful all-purpose exclamation. In the movie BASEketball, the two lead characters carry on a lengthy argument using only the word “dude” in various inflections. And Bud Light had a whole series of commercials where “dude” was the only word uttered. They didn’t even say “Bud Light.” (You can see some examples here, here and here.)
Party on, dude.