Author’s Note: This piece is a re-worked version of one of our early attempts at what might be called “linguistic ethnography.” Linguistic ethnography, as I see it, is basically the study of how language is used and evolves with special attention to the social role of language. A comprehensive look at dude usage is a bit beyond the scope of this blog; therefore, what follows is a breakdown of some of the more interesting dude variants as used, primarily (although not exclusively) by and between North American males. Longtime readers may recall the original version of this piece, which has been updated with a brand new dude variant.
“Dude” I think, goes back to cowboy culture and something called “dude ranches.” I don’t really know what a dude ranch is, however I suspect it is horse-related. I do though know a bit about the modern use of “dude.” Below are some examples of “dude variants in the wild.” I am neither endorsing or critiquing and of the phrases or behaviors described. Dude variants simply abide.
I: “Dude, what the f***?”
One of the classic dude phrases, this is used to register sincere umbrage, usually with a friend or “mate.” Examples include: a friend says something unkind about a woman you both know, a friend steps in front of your putt on a golf course, a friend takes the last juice from your refrigerator without asking, etc. “Dude, what the f***?” is a little tart, however it contains an opportunity for the offender to “climb down.”
Guy 1: Dude, I don’t know about that chick Tracy. She’s blowing me off and she’s really becoming kind of a bitch.
Guy 2: Dude, what the f***? You know Tracy’s a friend of mine and she’s cool people. Come on man.
Guy 1: Sorry man, you’re right. It’s just been a rough week.
Guy 2: Dude that’s totally understandable. We love you man—we got you.
Comment: Illustrated here is a principal of male friendship where guys can speak sharply to each other, offend, and just totally get over it the next moment. Guys marvel at women, who seem sometimes to drag reconciliation after a conflict across a greater expanse of time, and count themselves lucky, in this instance, to be guys.
This is used when a guy sees a guy he knows and hasn’t seen for a while. It is often coupled with a hand shake and “bro-hug” and/ or a slap on the back.
Guy 1 (seeing his friend approaching): “Duuuuude”
Guy 2: Hey buddy, what’s up man?
Guy 1: Duuuude, how the f*** are you?
Guy 2: Dude, it’s crazy to see you man.
Guy 1: Dude, I know right. So what are we doing? Are we drinking yet or what?
Comment: Illustrated here is the multi-purpose functionality of both “dude” and “man,” which may seem interchangeable to the untrained ear, but in fact have different nuances and ideal placements in male patter. And, a good long “duuuuuude” can be very satisfying to unleash.
III: “Dude, that’s not the way we need to go here”
“Dude, that’s not the way we need to go here” exists in a family of phrases which includes for example, “dude, that’s really not gonna get it done,” “dude, I’m going to ask you to take a step back and check yourself for a second,” etc. These are all part of the very wide set of phrases that a manager can use with a direct. Modern managerial theory is divided on whether or not “dude,” is acceptable in supervisory conversations of this sort, and strong opinions exist on both sides. I side with the “yes” camp, but only in a basically dude-centric culture. As a middle-manger for many years I have often used phrases such as these while perhaps using the person’s name or just “hold on” in place of “dude.” But in my head, I’m saying “dude” every time.
IV: “Dude I’ve been thinking…”
This can go a lot of ways. It’s a crisper “dude,” and an entry into a SERIOUS TOPIC. Often found towards the end of drink two or into drink three, when guys are staring to get comfortable with their feelings, this phrase is usually either a precursor to a promise to spend more time together, or to a project or idea the guy has that he wants to share with his buddy.
Guy 1: Dude I’ve been thinking…
Guy 2: Uh oh. That’s never good…
Guy 1: Shut up dude and just listen for a second, man. I’m seriously thinking about building a greenhouse. Like seriously dude.
Guy 2 (thinking): Man, that actually sounds pretty sweet. A greenhouse. Cool man. That’s really cool.
Guy 1: I’ve got a line on this guy who can get me the parts for like $400. I just have to assemble it. Man, this could really be big.
Guy 2: F***, man. That’s awesome dude. I’m proud of you.
Comment: An exchange such as the above will often be accompanied by some light physical contact, actual or attempted, if not a full-on “bro-hug.”
V: “Dude, I’ve got this”
“Dude, I’ve got this” is used to tell a friend to back off from attempting to assist with a task a guy thinks he has under control.
Guy 1 (seeing his friend trying to carry two beers up a narrow set of stairs at the bar): Dude, let me give you a hand.
Guy 2: Thanks dude, I’ve got this.
Guy 1: Of course you do dude. But we’ve all had a few and I just don’t want you to spill anything.
Guy 2: Dude, I said I’ve got this.
Guy 1 (watching his friend trying to fix a flat tire on another friend’s bicycle): Dude I think you may need to take the tire all the way off first.
Guy 2: Thanks dude, I’ve got this.
Guy 1: Sure dude. I’m just not sure you’re gonna be able to fix it like that.
Guy 2: Dude. I’ve got this.
Comment: “Dude, I’ve got this” is clearly a softer way of saying “back off,” and if you push a guy who is in “I’ve got this” mode, you may in fact elicit a “back off.” Because in most cases neither guy wants to get to the “dude back off” stage, most of the time Guy 1 will concede after the second “I’ve got this” is played. In Example I, Guy 2’s repetition of the phrase is more or less in the same tone as its initial use. In Example II however, we see the tone of Guy 2 shift with the repetition. While “thanks dude, I’ve got this,” is said in a light, casual tone, “Dude. I’ve got this” sees him breaking out the pause-as-warning. So in fact it would sound something like this: “Dude (pause) I’ve got this.” As implied above, this guy usually ends the conversation.
VI: “Alright dude”
“Alright dude,” is usually said towards the end of a conversation or phone call and serves as an indicator of a positive conclusion to the encounter.
Guy 1: Alright dude, it’s been good catching up.
Guy 2: Dude, for real. Always fun man.
Guy 1: Let’s do it again.
Guy 2: Cool man—I’d like that.
Guy 1: Alright dude. You be good.
Guy 2: Dude, bro, it’s all good. Check you later.
VII: “Dude, check this out”
“Dude, check this out” is a highly versatile phrase used to draw a friend’s attention to a matter of interest.
Guy 1: Dude, check this s*** out. It’s a shuffleboard, man. Whaddya say?
Guy 2: Duuuuude, shuffleboard…
Guy 1: Dude check this chick out right over there, behind the begonias. She’s just looked your way, like three times.
Guy 2: Shut the f*** up man. She’s not looking at me. Get out of here, dude.
Guy 3: Dude, she totally is. You should totally go over and say hi.
Guy 2: Come on guys. Knock it off.
Guy 1: Dude, she just did it again…
Note: If you have come across a dude variant that you think merits inclusion pop it in the comments with an example or two and we’ll see what we can do.
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