Language lessons across the USA and Canada

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Hey dude!

The word ‘dude’ often conjures up images of surfers and Californian drop-outs, but it’s becoming increasingly well-used by English speakers all over the world.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, its origins are in African American Vernacular English (AAVE), the dialect spoken by African Americans throughout the United States:

1883, “fastidious man,” New York City slang of unknown origin. The vogue word of 1883, originally used in reference to the devotees of the “aesthetic” craze, later applied to city slickers, especially Easterners vacationing in the West (e.g. dude ranch, first recorded 1921).
Application to any male is recorded by 1966, U.S., originally in Black English.

The Dialect Blog looks at this further and concludes:

Here is what’s interesting, though. Dude is currently used in both African American Vernacular English and “white” dialects like General American. But it’s used somewhat differently in these two contexts.

Among AAVE speakers, I have noticed that “dude” is used far more commonly in the third person. For example, an AAVE speaker might say:

“What’s wrong with that dude?”

But the sentence …

“What’s wrong with you, dude?”

… doesn’t sound right in AAVE. In California or other kinds of Englishes, on the other hand, this question would sound perfectly normal. This is my own perception, of course, but I’ve noticed that African Americans (who speak AAVE) rarely refer to the people they are directly speaking to as “dude.”

The comments on the blog post are also interesting – dude seems to have quite a history!

Do you say dude and in what context?