A linguistic study of the word "Dude"
What follows is a paper I wrote for my linguistics class. Plagiarize
this and I'll hunt down you and your immediate family.
For my study I have chosen the word dude. It is a
word that I use often without thinking about its meaning, so I thought
it would be interesting to subject it to a modern linguistic analysis.
Phonetics and Phonology
The IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) transcription of dude
is /dud/.* The word is often lengthened--[du:d]--and is sometimes
rounded--[duwd]--but these phonetic differences do not make a difference
* The Oxford English Dictionary transcribes it as /dju:d/.
Dude consists of one free morpheme, dude.* The
most common affix taken is the suffix -ical, which changes
the noun dude into the adjective dudical.
This process is phonologically similar to that which changes the
adjective rad into the adjective radical.
Dudical, however, differs in meaning with the adjective
dude-ish; the former is similar to the adjectives cool
or awesome and can refer to any noun, whereas dudish
describes how much of a dude an individual is.** There are many
other less common forms. Though dude is currently used to
refer to a person of either gender, the suffix -ette was
once added to denote a female dude*** (this was more
common during the 1980s, when the phrase dudes and dudettes
served the same purpose--though in a different register--as the
phrase ladies and gentlemen). The suffix -ness
can be added to create the noun dude-ness (operating in the
same way as other -ness nouns, such as black-ness
and bright-ness). The Oxford English Dictionary defines
dudeness (along with dudedom, dudery,
and dudism) as the state, style, character, or
manners of a dude. Like certain other -ness nouns (such
as high-ness), dude-ness can be used as a proper noun
(His Dudeness is used in the same way as His (Royal)
Highness). Dude can also take the Spanish determiner
el and the Spanish suffix -erino (creating El
Duderino****). Duder (dude-er), a semantically-equivalent
alternate for dude, was used in the film Bill and
Teds Excellent Adventure. Additionally, The Cassell
Dictionary of Slang offers the alternative dudester
(a person, irrespective of gender).
|* The affixes listed in this paragraph are all bound morphemes.
** The OED defines dudish as characteristic
of a dude or foppish.
*** According to the OED, a female dude is a dudess
or a dudine--though I have never heard these forms.
**** His Dudeness and El Duderino are
very uncommon forms. I have only heard the former once or twice
in my life, and the latter only once, in the Coen brothers
film The Big Lebowski (the main character in this film
calls himself the Dude, and offers El Duderino
as an acceptable alternative).
Dude is a noun (N), and can take all determiners appropriate
for nouns (proper or otherwise) describing a person or a group of
people.* The noun dude does not take any complements
(such as in, with, about, etc.).
When used as a verb, however, it takes the complement up:
to dude up means to dress oneself up (like a dude).
The verb phrase (VP) dude up can be further modified
into the adjective phrase (AP) duded up (meaning dressed
* The dude refers to a specific (and possibly
the only) dude, a dude implies the existence of multiple
dudes but refers to only one, etc.
Semantics and Pragmatics
Dude can mean many things. It is an attention-getter
(an alternative to hey!), an expression of interest
or excitement in response to something just uttered (A: I
just won the lottery!, B: Are you serious? Dude!),
a gender-neutral* address (Hey, Dude, can I try that?),
and a noun referring to a person (usually near the speakers
age, and with a connotation of cool** person).
I use the term very often with my friends but never with employers
or other people with whom I am associated professionally.
* There is the form dudette but I have always
used dude for both sexes. None of my friends--male or female--currently
** Of course, by cool I mean interesting
or neat (also taken in its nonliteral sense).
According to the OED, dude is a factitious
slang term which came into vogue in New York about the beginning
of 1883, in connexion with the aesthetic craze of that
day. Its actual origin, however, is not recorded. The OED
defines dude as a name given in ridicule to a
man affecting an exaggerated fastidiousness in dress, speech, and
deportment, and very particular about what is aesthetically good
form; hence, extended to an exquisite, a dandy, a swell.*
The Cassell Dictionary of Slang lists similar definitions
(an overdressed, showy person, a fop or dandy and a
fool are two of the possibilities) but also gives its more
contemporary meaning. Since the 1970s, dude means simply
a person, irrespective of gender. It certainly is no
longer used in ridicule (OED), but is more often
than not a compliment.**
* The OED also gives the meaning it acquires when used in
the phrase dude ranch, but this meaning does not concern
me in this study.
** I think an appropriate comparison is the word pimp--literally
describing a man who exploits the services of prostitutes for his
own financial gain (something that can hardly be called a compliment),
it is now used as an adjective meaning fancy or stylish.
In a similar way dude is no longer used as an insult.
Dude is used by both sexes and all ages (though it
is more commonly used by males than females, and is rarely used
by older generations) in casual social situations. It is more socially
acceptable for an older person to address a younger person
as dude than the other way around. Its register is informal; in
more formal registers it can be replaced by words such as sir
or maam (or the plural ladies and gentlemen,
as mentioned above) when used as an address, phrases such as whoa!
when used as an exclamation, or general nouns such as person,
man, or woman when used as a noun. I have
noticed that the word was used more often in California in the 1980s
than it is now in Oregon. Since moving to Oregon I have used the
word less and less, and I am sometimes criticized when I use it
too much (in California, one could never use it too