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!

Update (Dec. 2022). In a comment (see below), Stephen Goranson links to Anatoly Liberman’s blog post Dude: a long history of a short word reporting on Origin of the Term ‘Dude‎’, a book by Gerald Leonard Cohen, Barry A. Popik, and Peter J. Reitan; some excerpts:

Origin of the Word ‘Dude’ opens with the following dedication: “To the memory of Robert Sale Hill (1850-1922), whose January 14, 1883, poem ‘The Dude’ [in the New York City newspaper The World] introduced a word which instantly became one of the most popular items in the English slang lexicon.” Three earlier examples of dude are believed to exist, but the authors question the dating of those sources and insist that dude was Hill’s coinage. […]

Naturally, Cohen and his companions had to decide how Hill came up with that immortal monosyllable. But let me first quote the relevant lines: “Long years ago, in ages crude, / Before there was a mode, oh! / There lived a bird, they called a ‘Dude’, /Resembling much the ‘Dodo’.” […]

There can be little doubt that Robert S. Hill’s poem propelled the word dude into fame, but where did he get it? The book suggests two sources: the phrase Yankee Doodle (which, it has turned out, could also be used as a term to ridicule a dandy) and the British slang word fopdoodle “a silly-looking fop,” which Hill might know. Presumably, the word’s “offspring” doodle was later shortened to dude. Be that as it may, the crucial point is that Hill wrote a poem about dudes and launched the slang word into prominence. “The dudes of that era were young, vacuous, brainless, wealthy Anglomaniacs who drew widespread amusement and ridicule for their slavish imitation of British dress and speech” (page one). The authors state that the dude craze began immediately.

Dogged research pays off again!


  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.

  16. Anatoly Liberman’s blog today

    begins with note of a new book:
    “This is an informal report of Origin of the Term Dude, a book by Gerald Leonard Cohen, Barry A. Popik, and Peter J. Reitan, self-published by Professor Gerald Cohen, at Missouri University of Science and Technology. …”

    Gerald Cohen replied to my request on how to obtain it:
    “,,,the cost of the book is thirty-five dollars plus ten dollars for mailing costs. (Total forty-five dollars).
    Check should be made payable to Missouri S&T and mailed to me at:
    (Professor) Gerald Cohen
    Dept. of Arts, Languages & Philosophy
    Missouri University of Science & Technology
    Rolla, MO 65402

    This is a limited edition (80 copies). More may be printed if justified by demand.”

  17. Thanks! I’ve updated the post accordingly.

  18. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I wonder how people living in the future (a.k.a. outside the US) where checks don’t exist are supposed to acquire that report? Not that I’m actually feeling the need myself, but get with the program, people! I have been able to transfer money to a person living in Russia, years ago, using my “net” “banking” on the “computer” I have.

    (Not that I’ve ever been able to write a check in USD, but even if I had a checkbook for my “checking account,” no bank in Denmark has been willing to cash checks since about three years ago. And before that it cost the equivalent of 5-6 dollars to write one, and the same to cash it in another bank. I may have received a checkbook when changing banks 10-12 years ago, but I never used a single one of those).

  19. David Marjanović says

    Outside the US and France, checks have been next to unknown for decades; I’m surprised there were still checkbooks in Denmark so recently.

    There are ways to wire money to the US, though.

  20. I expect the book contents will be essentially the same as Peter Reitan’s blog post Dudes, Dodos, and Fopdoodles – A History and Etymology of “Dude”!!! (from 2015, responding to previous publications by Barry Popik and Gerald Cohen), along with several more posts on that blog, plus his dude-specific blog A-Dude-a-Day. I don’t think he’d introduce new material in the hardcopy without also putting it on his blogs. It’s just a convenient package for those who want it.

  21. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @DM, I think the ability to write checks was restricted to business accounts for the last 4-5 years of the system’s existence. And yeah, you can probably wire money to Missouri S&T, but they didn’t give the account number, did they? And last time I tried that, the US bank charged around 50 dollars to process the payment. That’s why PayPal has customers.

  22. David Marjanović says

    And last time I tried that, the US bank charged around 50 dollars to process the payment.


  23. No, I was too hasty in assuming that Peter Reitan’s blog would include all the book’s material. Some significant parts were only on paper in Comments on Etymology: in particular, the blog cites a couple of articles there arguing that the few known attestations of dude before 1883 are untrustworthy.

    The OED revised dude in 2016, relying apparently on the Popik-Cohen article but not the followups. They include these two quotations without noting that they are contested:

    The precise meaning in quots. 1877 and 1879 is unclear; both are from military contexts, and may suggest an earlier slightly different sense.
    1877 F. Remington Sel. Lett. (1988) 15 Don’t send me any more [pictures of] women or any more dudes. Send me Indians, cowboys, villains or toughs.
    1879 A. F. Mulford Fighting Indians (ed. 2) vi. 26 What a difference between the real soldiers we now met, and those paper collar dudes at Fort Snelling!

    The “military context” of the first quote is that teenage Frederic Remington was a student at a military academy in Worcester, Massachusetts, who often sketched soldiers and was exchanging sketches with another artist by letter. But this letter, though it has been quoted in many books about Remington as well as the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, is poorly sourced. All citations lead back to one point: an article “A Page from the Boyhood of Frederic Remington” in Collier’s magazine, 17 September 1910, p. 28. (It’s on Hathitrust and Google Books.) This is a sentimental story of a young artist — published not long after Remington’s death, while public interest in him was still high — quoting a series of his letters over two years and reproducing several sketches. Unfortunately the writer says nothing about how he obtained the letters, and no one knows what happened to them: no biographer has seen the originals or even attempted to trace them, they all just take the magazine at face value. I’d think the originals would be extremely valuable and sought-after by collectors, but on the other hand, sometimes valuable things do go unrecognized and get lost.

    (The OED’s citation of the 1988 Selected Letters does not seem like good bibliographic practice to me. Shouldn’t they be citing its source, from 1910?)

    Reitan says the other source, Fighting Indians in the 7th U.S. Cavalry, is misdated and was really much later, citing Comments on Etymology.

  24. ktschwarz, I much appreciate your self-correction about the Dude book. Jerry Cohen is a gentleman and scholar, long working in the sometimes-contentious, sometimes-underappreciated field of etymology. And only in limited senses a dude.

  25. A twitter thread about hot dogs (which does not have an antedate for dude, but does have an early usage):


    1886: “wiener wurst is the stuff that fattens dudes”

  26. A classic scene, from the 1998 movie BASEketball:

  27. I wondered if the monograph Origin of the Term ‘Dude’ had made its way online, and discovered that it has. The Missouri University of Science and Technology (which the primary author, Gerald Cohen, is affiliated with) has made it available for download.


  28. Great, thanks for finding and linking that!

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