“Dude” as a linguistic tool

Yesterday, while sipping coffee at a fine cafe in Kyoto, my friends and I exchanged a bit of English slang for tutoring in Japanese.

We discussed the versitality of the word “dude.” Not only can it be used in such phrases as ” Knarly dude!” or “Dude that was totally heinous,” but it can also be used alone. The change in intonation and inflection determine its meaning. We informed our Japanese friend that if he learns this word and all its connotations combined with the correct tone of voice, he would be able to communicate effectively in the United States.

After only fifteen minutes of instruction he is well on his way to understanding.


2 Responses to ““Dude” as a linguistic tool”

Marielle Says:

Boy Howdy! It’s cool that you were able to teach your friend some Amerikan slang. Speaking english and not knowing the word “dude” is like being Data on Next Gen. - it’s like, he knows all these facts, but finds himself constantly tripped up with these weird social intricacies and humanoid slang.

February 20th, 2006 at 8:38 am

Natalie Says:

My mom sent this to me a while ago. When I read your post, it reminded me of this guy:

Linguist Deciphers Uses of Word ‘Dude’

2 hours, 36 minutes ago
U.S. National - AP By MIKE CRISSEY, Associated Press Writer
PITTSBURGH — Dude, you’ve got to read this. A linguist from the University of
Pittsburgh has published a scholarly paper deconstructing and deciphering the word
“dude,” contending it is much more than a catchall for lazy, inarticulate surfers,
skaters, slackers and teenagers.

An admitted dude-user during his college years, Scott Kiesling said the four-letter
word has many uses: in greetings (”What’s up, dude?”); as an exclamation (”Whoa,
Dude!”); commiseration (”Dude, I’m so sorry.”); to one-up someone (”That’s so lame,
dude.”); as well as agreement, surprise and disgust (”Dude.”).

Kiesling says in the fall edition of American Speech that the word derives its
power from something he calls cool solidarity — an effortless kinship that’s not
too intimate.

Cool solidarity is especially important to young men who are under social pressure
to be close with other young men, but not enough to be suspected as gay.

In other words: Close, dude, but not that close.

“It’s like man or buddy, there is often this male-male addressed term that says,
‘I’m your friend but not much more than your friend,’” said Kiesling, whose
research focuses on language and masculinity.

To decode the word’s meaning, Kiesling listened to conversations with fraternity
members he taped in 1993. He also had undergraduate students in sociolinguistics
classes in 2001 and 2002 write down the first 20 times they heard “dude” and who
said it during a three-day period.

He found the word taps into nonconformity and a new American image of leisurely

Anecdotally, men were the predominant users of the word, but women sometimes call
each other dudes.

Less frequently, men will call women dudes and vice versa. But that comes with some
rules, according to self-reporting from students in a 2002 language and gender
class included in the paper.

“Men report that they use dude with women with whom they are close friends, but not
with women with whom they are intimate,” according to the study.

His students also reported that they were least likely to use the word with parents,
bosses and professors.

Historically, dude originally meant “old rags” — a “dudesman” was a scarecrow. In
the late 1800s, a “dude” was akin to a “dandy,” a meticulously dressed man,
especially out West. It became “cool” in the 1930s and 1940s, according to
Kiesling. Dude began its rise in the teenage lexicon with the 1981 movie “Fast
Times at Ridgemont High.”

“Dude” also shows no signs of disappearing as more and more of our culture becomes
youth-centered, said Mary Bucholtz, an associate professor of linguistics at the
University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I have seen middle-aged men using ‘dude’ with each other,” she said.


February 21st, 2006 at 1:03 am

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