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Where Does "Dude" Come From?

Posted by Josh Rothman  February 27, 2012 04:45 PM

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Writing for Oxford University Press's Oxford Etymologist blog, Anatoly Liberman provides an absolutely masterful overview of the (possible) etymology of the word dude. The short, true answer: no one knows where dude comes from. Then there are the longer, possible answers. Dude might be:

an abbreviation of Low German dudenkop “blockhead” (kop = Kopf “head”); the simplex German Dude has also been attested with the same meaning... A fanciful etymology connected dude with one of the preterit forms of do. Another bizarre guess had it that at one time New York dandies greeted one another with “How dew you dew?” A few letter writers thought that dude has ties with the name of the now extinct dodo....

Much more at the OUP blog.

[Image: New Yorker Evander Berry Wall, crowned "King of the Dudes" after winning the "Battle of the Dudes" in 1888.]

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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