The Origins of the Word “Dude”


A brief history of the term “Dude” and how its context is forever changing.

The United States is a melting pot of languages and cultures with people hailing from all nations and races who bring their customs and sayings with them, which in time, integrate into our everyday speech known as “slang”.

For example, the word “Pal” comes from the Romani (Gypsy) word meaning “Brother”. In America, it is used all the time: “Hey, Pal!”, “What a Pal.” etc.)and though slang is often associated with the younger generations, many terms heard around high school campuses and skate parks are in fact, quite old.


One of the the most commonly used slang term in America would be “Dude”. “Hey Dude!” “Dude, what was that?” or just simply: “Dude!” It can be a noun, pronoun, adjective, an exclamation, or simply a word-filler in a sentence as it sometimes has no definition at all. The word is extremely flexible and can be used in almost any context, however, it seems that no one is using the word in its true context, let alone when and where it originates from.


The term “Dude” originates in the nineteenth century and is the American term for a “Dandy”. Dudes were wealthy, metro sexual young men who were born into privilege; never having to work a day in their lives and spending all their inheritance on frivolities. Because of changes from the industrial revolution, most Dudes chose to push out west and start a new life, unfortunately, they had never lived outside of the city.

Thence, “Dude Ranches” were developed. Communities where Dandies could purchase property, hire legitimate Cowboys to work for them and learn what it meant to “work”, experiencing the rural life first hand.

Because of their incompetence and ignorance, the Cowboy’s started calling them “Dudes”. Interestingly, two of our President’s were “Dudes”, Theodore Roosevelt journeyed west to live on a Dude Ranch, legend has it, he couldn’t even fire a gun correctly and was so inept at ranch work they called him the “King of Dudes”. Chester A. Arthur was coined, “The Dude of White House Residents”, due to his continuous attempts to be a good ol’ country boy despite his dandyish ways.

Contemporary Usage

Since the 1950s, “Dude” has come to be associated with California surfers, beach bums and cowboys; in contemporary times, it is often used to refer to an extremely masculine man or a plain and simple “Joe-Schmo” character. What is so ironic, is the fact that these contexts are completely opposite from the true definition of the word.