DUDE!

Allan Metcalf has a Lingua Franca column laying out the history of the word dude, as discovered by Barry Popik and Gerald Cohen and presented in the latest issue of Comments on Etymology:

Thanks to Popik and Cohen’s thorough investigation, it seems almost certain that “dude” derived from “doodle,” as in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The original New England Yankee Doodle, Cohen notes, “was the country bumpkin who stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni; i.e., by sticking a feather in his cap, he imagined himself to be fashionable like the young men of his day known as ‘macaronis.’”
For some reason, early in 1883, this inspired someone to call foppish young men of New York City “doods,” with the alternate spelling “dudes” soon becoming the norm. Exactly what these fashionable fools were like unfolds copiously in the pages of Comments. Here there is room for just a small sample. [...]

(He also mentions “dudine,” for which see this LH post.) By all means read the examples, and be grateful for the devoted burrowers in 19th-century newspapers who give us things like this!

Comments

  1. Oddly enough, in my ideolect “dude” has reconverged on “doodle” via a productive diminutive -le. I call my wife this, and other made up -le words.

  2. Ugh, “idiolect.” To quote G. Hill: “Idiolect | that could be idiot dialect but isn’t,| wrinching and spraining the text for clown-comedy | amid the pain”. Anyway, if you could correct my howler and delete this comment, I’d be less pained.

  3. Trond Engen says:

    Please don’t delete.

  4. Indeed not. Ideolect is a charming word; some ideolectal terms would be moonbat, wingnut, running dog, pinko.

  5. Sorry, I still don’t get it, what was this German “Dudel” used for?
    “Cool dude” underwent a really monstrous transformation in Russian-language 7-up ads, becoming клевый чувак (preferred etymologies for “chuvak” differ from source to source, but the hypothesis that it originally stood for a wether (castrated ram) or a camel gelding (castrated male camel) makes it decidedly less cool)

  6. marie-lucie says:

    The original New England Yankee Doodle, Cohen notes, “was the country bumpkin who stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni; i.e., by sticking a feather in his cap, he imagined himself to be fashionable like the young men of his day known as ‘macaronis.’”
    I remember reading another definition of “macaroni” in the context of the song: the word at the time referred to a type of hat decoration worn by fashionable young men at the time, which was some kind of knotted ribbon or fancy cord or something of that kind, I don’t remember exactly. The country bumpkin could not find or afford this symbol of urban elegance and used a feather instead, perhaps ending up looking old-fashioned since feathers have been used with hats for centuries.

  7. ‘Dudak’ is a jackass from the city, a fool,or a hoopoe- as a polak is a jackass from the country, a fool, or an enemy of the Poles. In Polish. I think

  8. Really? My grandmother was born a Pollack, and I’ve always assumed it simply meant “Pole”.

  9. Polak/Pollack/Pollock certainly means ‘Pole’ much of the time, but it is also an English diminutive of Scots Gaelic poll ‘pool, pit’. There’s such a place in Glasgow, so it is a habitational name.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    JC: an English diminutive of Scots Gaelic poll ‘pool, pit’
    Any relation to the pollock (a saltwater fish)?

  11. J. W. Brewer says:

    We from time to time have various BrEng native speakers of a certain age here. I am for some reason suddenly seized by curiosity as to when the “modern” sense of “dude” may have become current in BrEng, and in particular whether the usage in “All the Young Dudes” reflected common local British usage (at least among young people) as of 1972, or was some sort of exotic Americanism (and of course use of Americanisms by British rock lyricists was not necessarily an unusual phenomenon, although this particular song has some other lexical items that might require the AmEng listener to consult a glossary).

  12. >Really? My grandmother was born a Pollack, and-
    Um, no, turns out not really. ‘Polak= Pole, Polakoz*erca= enemy of Poles.
    Too bad, that contrast between city fools all duded up and country natural fools all scuzzy and benighted stuck with me for years. It was sweet! Damn dictionary.
    Anyway, it backs me up on dudak= hoopoe.

  13. Marie-Lucie: Nobody knows. English poll ‘head’, mostly in poll tax nowadays, may also be related.

  14. I think we can be fairly certain macaronis wore feathers in their hats, since it was that habit which seems to have inspired the name of the macaroni penguin.

  15. The spelling ought to have been “dood”. I remember a UK vacation-review TV show in which the Home Counties hostess discussed a /djuːd rɑːntʃ/ in Montana.

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