Brow Beat

An Illustrated History of the Word Dude From 1883 to Today

It’s a message Jeffrey Lebowski would approve of: A new Mental Floss video by linguist Arika Okrent offers a brief, illustrated evolution of the word dude. The video takes us from dude’s early days of referring to the “hipsters of the 1880s” to today’s all-inclusive usage, which allows for “a sloppy dude, a baby dude … or even a lady dude.” With the right intonation, Okrent points out, the word dude can convey just about any emotion, be it excitement, incredulity, or disappointment.

The video is a great primer, but “dude” has too long and hallowed a history to squeeze into just two and a half minutes. As Okrent has previously elaborated in Slate, the word probably originated as an abbreviation of “doodle”—as in Yankee Doodle Dandy. It also notably appears in Mark Twain’s 1889 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a cameo that Slate’s Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo previously touched on in their own in-depth discussion of the word.