When I was a teenager, I remember watching TV at Dean Cartmill’s house. Dean was my best friend and one of the most even-tempered people around. Nothing seemed to make him angry. But on that particular occasion, Dean’s dad sauntered into the TV room and greeted us with “Hi, girls.” I didn’t think much of it. I figured he was just being funny.
But as soon as his dad left the room, Dean went into a volcanic rant. “I swear if he does that again, I’m moving out!” Dean would bellow. “I hate it when he calls me a girl!”
I would try to joke him out of it. “Where would you move?” I’d ask. “The YWCA?” It only made him madder.
I thought about Dean the other day when I ran across an old newspaper clipping I’d been saving. It was from five years ago. Maybe you recall the story. It was about the mayor of a small California town called Arvin. The town’s mayor, a Juan Olivares, was planning to file a complaint against a county sheriff deputy for what the officer kept calling him during a traffic stop. “He was calling me dude – and laughing about it,” Mayor Olivares said. The mayor was plenty steamed.
At the time, the hizzoner didn’t dispute the charges against him for having illegally tinted windows and an open container of beer in the car. He was just ticked off about the “dude” reference. He said he asked the officer five times, “Please, officer, don’t call me dude. I’m 41 years old and I consider myself a gentleman.”
A year later, Olivares was voted out as mayor, and I don’t know how his complaint against the officer turned out. But Olivares was probably fighting a lonely battle, because, like it or not, “dude” has become the modern day language’s “man.” Welcome or not, the word “dude” is here to stay.
I’m old enough to remember when “daddio” was just about the hippest replacement for “man” around. A friend and I still call each other daddio these days, believing the word is now so out of style that it’s actually hip again.
Personally, I’ve always somewhat favored “guy” because “Hi, guy” is such a satisfying little rhyme – and more compact than “Hello, fellow.” Not long ago, I heard a restaurant waiter greet a customer with “Food, dude?” When the customer appeared to be offended, he followed up with “Rude, dude?”
In the olden days (any time before the Clinton administration), calling someone “dude” was a bit of an insult. A dude was sort of a sissified name for an affected male, like the kind that hung out at dude ranches and got saddle sores. It would have been better to call someone baby cakes, pudding, tootipop, butterduck, puggy-bear, sugar-bugar, little fruit fly or scoogy-oogums. Anything but “dude.”
In the great old movie western, “The Man That Shot Liberty Valance,” Lee Marvin (Liberty Valance) continually taunts the good guy, Jimmy Stewart. You guessed it – he keeps calling him “dude.” As it turns out, John Wayne (nicknamed Duke in real life) winds up shooting Liberty Valance. So if they retitled the film, it’d be “The Duke That Shot a Dude Who Called Another Dude ‘Dude.’”
Nowadays, especially among the under-35 crowd, not only do guys call other guys “dude”—but they also call females “dude.” For that matter, females not only call males “dude’, but other females too.
The growing universality of “dude” – not only as the name for a chum or a buddy, but the generic name for everyone — is gaining enormous momentum. It’s disconcerting, but inevitable, that the day may be near when someone will bow to Queen Elizabeth and greet her with, “Hey, dude, nice crown!”
When that apocalyptic day finally arrives, somebody might just as well rewrite all the history books, all the famous literature, all the celebrated quotations and be done with it:
“No dude is an island.” John Donne
“These are the times that try dudes’ souls.” Thomas Paine
“You may fool all the dudes some of the time … you can even fool some of the dudes all of the time; but you can’t fool all the dudes all of the time.” Abraham Lincoln
“One small step for a dude, one giant leap for Dudekind.” Neil Armstrong
And sadly, President Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech line will become, “Ask not what your country can dude for you; ask what you can dude for your country.”
Regardless, Dean Cartmill says he’s okay with being called “dude.” Just don’t call him a you-know-what.
Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at email@example.com.