Dude! Where does the word dude come from?

with thanks to Taking English One Thumb at a Time
(dūd, dyūdpronunciation
  1. Informal. An Easterner or city person who vacations on a ranch in the West.
  2. Informal. A man who is very fancy or sharp in dress and demeanor.
  3. Slang.
    1. A man; a fellow.
    2. dudes Persons of either sex.
Slang. To dress elaborately or flamboyantly: got all duded up for the show.

interj. Slang
Used to express approval, satisfaction, or congratulations. Source

The origins of the word dude are disputed but certainly predate Dude, Where’s my Car? (2000). According to the American Heritage Dictionary: 
Originally it was applied to fancy-dressed city folk who went out west on vacation. In this usage it first appears in the 1870s.

A New York newspaper declared one Evan Berry (left) the ‘King of the Dudes’ in 1888. 'Dude' makes an appearance  in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). The word also pops-up in the letters of an unlikely hipster P.G Woodhouse, the only English characters the American public would read about were exaggerated dudes

In the 1962 John Ford western, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart) is accused of being a 'dude' - a Fancy-Dan lawyer and interloper. 

60 Revival

In the early 60s, 'dude' was adopted as surfer slang and then more generally amongst west-coast hipsters. It appears in the uber-cool counter-cultural film Easy Rider (1969), though the Peter Fonda character needs to have  meaning of the word explained to him.  

By the early 70s 'dude' was a staple of the cool-cat dictionary. David Bowie sent it into the singles chart with All the Young Dudes (1972) , while the ultimate hipsters, Steely Dan, recorded  Every Major Dude (1974). 

Outside of California 'dude' faded in the same way as ‘groovy’ and ‘gear’ went out of fashion. For the next generation of hipsters, the word was slightly embarrassing reminder of the 60s. 

The Dude

By the 90s, dude was beginning to regain its hip status and sub-cultural kudos. But it was the success of The Big Lewbowski (1998) that transformed its fortunes. Dude changed from being the linguistic equivalent of a cult Indie band to the U2 of contemporary vocabulary. Lebowski fans even created a 'religion, Dudeism.

Now dude is everywhere, dude. It has become an all-purpose expression for everything - from expressing approval ("Dude!") to indicating gender ('the dude in the hat').

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