When you hear the word dude all kinds of images might swirl through your brain. It’s a word that has been around for a long, long time. Therefore, it has accumulated a number of meanings, depending upon the setting and the circumstances.
Perhaps your first encounter with the word dude may have been in the context of a ranch, usually in the west, where easterners go to have a “western experience.” It’s called a dude ranch. And, yes, the people who go there to play cowboy are called “dudes.”
My favorite image of that use of the word is Billy Crystal and his city-slicker buddies who head west to a dude ranch in the 1991 film City Slickers. Facing middle age, these three characters have a hilarious, but poignant encounter with aging and friendship. But it is clear from the beginning that they are dudes…in every aspect of the word.
The word, however, has taken on a variety of meanings, some of which are more casual than that of a city-slicker on a cattle drive.
In some circles, the term dude is characterized by an extremely well-dressed, fastidious character who, in previous eras, would have worn spats, a bowler, wing-tipped collar and wing-tipped shoes, and three-piece suits which cost a pretty penny. The crease in his pants was cemented into place. His French-cuffed shirt wore precious jewels in its cufflinks, and there was probably a flower on his lapel. In some circles he might have been seen as a dandy, but there was more of a masculine character to him. A dandy term has somewhat of an effeminate connotation to it. In today’s world a dude of this characterization might be more of a metro-sexual, although the clothing type would be dramatically different.
Of course, there is the casual term dude which is somewhat of an affectionate term used for “best friend” or “buddy.” When a guy refers to someone as his “best dude” he is commenting on someone with whom he is close He might fish, hunt, drink, play darts, or go to a ball game with him, as there is a distinctively masculine tone to its contemporary use. Dads will sometimes refer to their son as “my dude,” meaning “my little man.” It’s a distinctively casual term intending to signify closeness and admiration.
And then there is the super-casual dude, a term used loosely in “the hood” to identify a guy…whether he be friend or foe. This is a case where you have to be very careful about how you interpret it when you are called dude on the street. It may not be endearing, and you may be about to find yourself relieved of your credit cards.
The resources indicate that there is another use for the term dude which simply means someone who is a resident of a city. It’s a term which has a derogatory slant to it, usually carrying the connotation that the guy (almost never used to signify a woman) is used to the less rugged life of non-urban settings. A dude will stand on the curb of a small town and try to wave down a taxi, to the amusement of the residents. Or a dude will want a styled cut in a barbershop and walk out having been sheared military-style. Just ask for a latte in a diner in a small town and you will discover what they mean by the term dude.
This is a fun word, one which is used frequently in contemporary conversations. I suppose it helps to be clear about how you mean it when you say dude.
Cartoon Credit: Jose Duarte