Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dude: Where Did You Learn to Say That?

You hear it all the time, dude. It seems some Adirondack folks can’t stop using it at the beginning or end of nearly every sentence. A remnant of the 1980s? You bet. A remnant of the 1880s? Dude, also correct. It turns out dude is one of those words often cited as “origin unknown” in English dictionaries that is in fact an Irish word adopted as slang by the rest of America (including all those Warren County Dude Ranches).

According to the late Daniel Cassidy, who spent six years dissecting the etymology of American slang words for his book How the Irish Invented Slang, dude is one of the many slang words and phrases that have come to us from Gaelic by way of the poorest Irish immigrants. Jazz, snazzy, moolah, slugger and even poker, are Irish words spelled phonetically in English brought to us by Irish street toughs.

Take this front page article from the February 25, 1883 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle:

A new word has been coined. It is d-u-d-e or d-o-o-d. The spelling does not seem to be distinctly settled yet… Just where the word came from nobody knows, but it has sprang into popularity in the last two weeks, so that now everybody is using it…

A dude cannot be old; he must be young, and to be properly termed a dude he should be of a certain class who affect Metropolitan theaters. The dude is from 19 to 28 years of age, wears trousers of extreme tightness, is hollow chested, effeminate in his ways, apes the English and distinguishes himself among his fellowmen as a lover of actresses. The badge of his office is the paper cigarette, and his bell crown English opera hat is his chiefest joy… As a rule they are rich men’s sons, and very proud of the unlimited cash at their command… They are a harmless lot of men in one way… but they are sometimes offensive.

According to any standard Irish dictionary, a Dud (pronounced Dood) is a foolish-looking fellow, a dolt, a numbskull; a clown; an idiot.

Sounds right to me, dude.

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