Someone wrote a short comment in my website guestbook that began with, "Dude,..."
It brought back memories of a period in my life that I never really experienced
– the "Hey dude," days.
Or perhaps it was the "Hey Jude..." days of Lennon/McCartney that I was thinking
about. But that wasn't all that long ago was it? What's 35 years among
'Dude,' is not an expression I hear all that often. I'm not even sure that it ever was a widely used expression? My current and past social circles, as well as my social squares, never brought me into contact with the "hey dude" types – but then I never wore my pants down around my thighs, colored my hair, pierced any body parts, or owned a skate board.
How did this expression get started in the first place? I suspect television was responsible for propagating it, but where did it begin? My minimal research hit a dead end with our good friend Webster, who says its origin is "unknown." However Webster does say that this "unknown origin" was in 1883. I don't understand how an unknown origin can be given a precise year for its unknown beginning.
Its first use was apparently applied to city dwellers that were unfamiliar with the western life of the cowboy. 'Dude' also refers to a man who is "...extremely fastidious in dress and manner." These two uses probably emerged from one – where the well-dressed and unfamiliar person from the East appeared on the range looking bewildered and out of place.
Nowadays we have dude ranches where people who are not familiar with life on the plains take planes to the plains, experience pains riding horses and yell "yeeeee hawwww" at all the wrong times. They dress like they think cowboys should dress, and are called dudes because they are dressed too nicely and look out of place.
A synonym of the word 'dude,' which refers to a fastidiously dressed gentleman, is 'dandy'. Now there's an expression I'm glad has not been popularized. If someone said to me, "Hey dandy," I'd be a little concerned.
Modern use of the word 'dude' tends to be masculine. You don't hear girls saying "Hey dude." At least I don't. I'm sure there are some out there, but I'd rather not hear from any of them. Or perhaps I already did. My website guestbook entry just said it was from 'Web surfer,' so it's sexist of me to assume it was a guy.
Webster also says that 'dude' refers to a "fellow" or "guy" and is sometimes used informally as a term of address, such as "hey, dude, what's up." However, if you actually hear someone say "hey dude, what's up," there is a good chance it's not their pants.