For other uses, see Dude (disambiguation).

Dude is an American English slang term[1] for an individual. It typically applies to men, although the word can encompass either sex.

Dude is an old term, recognized by multiple generations although potentially with slightly different meanings.[2] From the 1870s to the 1960s, dude primarily meant a person who dressed in an extremely fashionable manner (a dandy) or a citified person who was visiting a rural location but stuck out (a city slicker). In the 1960s, dude evolved to mean any male person, a meaning that slipped into mainstream American slang in the 1970s. Current slang retains at least some use of all three of these common meanings.


Evander Berry Wall, a New York socialite, was dubbed "King of the Dudes." He is pictured (1888) in the New York American newspaper at the time of the "battle of the Dudes."[3][4]

The word may have derived from the Scottish term for clothes, duddies.[5] The term "dude" was first used in print in 1876, in Putnam's Magazine, to mock how a woman was dressed (as a "dud"/dude).[5] The use of the word "dudde" for clothing in English goes as far back as 1567.[6]

In the popular press of the 1880s and 1890s, "dude" was a new word for "dandy" – an extremely well-dressed male, a man who paid particular importance to how he appeared. The café society and Bright Young Things of the late 1800s and early 1900s were populated with dudes. Young men of leisure vied to show off their wardrobes. The best known of this type is probably Evander Berry Wall, who was dubbed "King of the Dudes" in 1880s New York and maintained a reputation for sartorial splendor all his life. This version of the word is still in occasional use in American slang, as in the phrase "all duded up" for getting dressed in fancy clothes.[7]

The word was used to refer to Easterners and referred to a man with "store bought clothes". The word "dude" derived from the Spanish phrase “lo dudo” meaning "doubtful".[8] The word was used by cowboys to unfavorably refer to the city dwellers.[9]

A variation of this was a "well-dressed man who is unfamiliar with life outside a large city." In The Home and Farm Manual (1883), author Jonathan Periam used the term "dude" several times to denote an ill-bred and ignorant, but ostentatious, man from the city.

The implication of an individual who is unfamiliar with the demands of life outside of urban settings gave rise to the definition of dude as a city slicker, or "an Easterner in the [United States] West".[1] Thus "dude" was used to describe the wealthy men of the expansion of the United States during the 19th century by ranch-and-homestead-bound settlers of the American Old West. This use is reflected in the dude ranch, a guest ranch catering to urbanites seeking more rural experiences. Dude ranches began to appear in the American West in the early 20th century, for wealthy Easterners who came to experience the "cowboy life." The implicit contrast is with those persons accustomed to a given frontier, agricultural, mining, or other rural setting. This usage of "dude" was still in use in the 1950s in America, as a word for a tourist — of either gender — who attempts to dress like the local culture but fails.[10] An inverse of these uses of "dude" would be the term "redneck," a contemporary American colloquialism referring to poor farmers and uneducated persons, which itself became pejorative, and is also still in use.[11][12][13]

The term was also used as a job description, such as "bush hook dude" as a position on a railroad in the 1880s. For an example, see the Stampede Tunnel.

In the early 1960s, dude became prominent in surfer culture as a synonym of guy or fella. The female equivalent was "dudette" or "dudess," but these have both fallen into disuse, and "dude" is now also used as a unisex term. This more general meaning of "dude" started creeping into the mainstream in the mid-1970s. "Dude," particularly in surfer and “bro” culture, is generally used informally to address someone (“Dude, I’m glad you finally called”) or refer to another person (“That dude is stealing my car”).[14]

In 2008, Bud Light aired an advertising campaign in which the dialogue consists entirely of different inflections of "Dude!" and does not mention the product by name. It was a followup to their near-identical and more widely noted "Whassup?" campaign.[15]


  1. 1 2 "Dude, Def. 2 – The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 8 May 2007.
  2. Winona Bullard; Shirley Johnson; Jerkeshea Morris; Kelly Fox; Cassie Howell. "Slang".
  3. Bryk, William (June 22, 2005). "King of the Dudes". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2008-11-11.
  4. Jeffers, Harry Paul (2005). Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age, p.45. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-39102-6
  5. 1 2 Mapes Dodge, Mary (May–October 1901). St. Nicholas: an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks. XXVIII. Scribner & Co. p. 734. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
  6. Meriam Webster's Dictionary http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dud
  7. "duded up", McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2002, retrieved 10 October 2012
  8. Y Gilbert, Donald Chavez. "Origins Of The first American Cowboys Chapter 11" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  9. Ltd, Not Panicking. "h2g2 - The Word 'Dude' - Edited Entry". h2g2.com. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  10. Robert Knoll (1952). "The meanings and etymologies of dude". 27: 20–22. JSTOR 453362.
  11. Harold Wentworth, and Stuart Berg Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang (1975) p. 424.
  12. "Redneck". Dictionary.com.
  13. Barbara Ann Kipfer and Robert L. Chapman, American Slang (2008) p. 404
  14. Howell, Cassie. "Examples of Slang". Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  15. Swansburg, John (28 January 2008). "Dude! How great are those new Bud Light ads?". Slate.com. Retrieved 10 March 2008.

External links

Look up dude in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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