By Summer Lopez
My 5 year-old asked me what dude means. I’ve dreaded this moment ever since my Californiagirlspeak tumbled out of his mouth as a toddler.
This question, unlike others concerned with reincarnation as a kitten and what is that girl in a Beastie Boys video doing, gave me pause. (There was no easy answer, like questions of yore: “Mama, am I a feminist?”)
The usage and context of dude are purely inflectional and make zero sense:
“DUDE.” I have something I totally need to tell you right now.
“Those dudes” Don’t know these guys but I’m calling em out.
“I rocked that, Dude.” Buy me a beer because you’re my dude.
“Dooooooo-de” Bummer, man.
“Totally, dude.” I get it.
“Sup Dude.” I’m cool enough to say this over and over.
“Dude that sucks.” I am down to Happy Hour.
“Dude! What’s up with that?” Seriously? That did not just happen.
“Dude, I’m all” I know your name but we’re close so you’re just dude to me.
“THAT Dude!” I am hating on you, THAT Dude.
“THIS Dude!” I am loving you, THIS Dude.
“So dude…” Initiating an epic conversation that doesn’t include anyone.
Now I can’t not think of every use of dude I’ve heard or said since always. Damn this tangle of our native tongue so aptly called by linguists: Dumb AF. Instead we have popular representations to locate this expression that is somehow a pronoun, noun, declaration and exclamation. And a royal title. And someday, perhaps, ice cream?
After a week’s thought I tell my kid: “You know, dude was an old-school surfer/skater thing that kind of happened in the 80s but nobody still says it. It’s not a smart word. Okay?” Kid says, “Okay, dude.”
Summer Lopez is a writer living in California. Politics, entertainment, and memoir are equal parts her subject matter. She also publishes We Are 40, a zine for Generation X, and Lost in a Book, a kid lit review.