December 08, 2004

Dude cartoon decoded

Several people have written to clue me in to the meaning of the second panel of the dude cartoon. Combining various of the messages, the correct interpretation is something like:

Panel 1 A: "Dude!"
B: "Dude."
A: "Hey!" or "Hello!"
B: "Hey there" or "Hi."
Panel 2 A: "Dude?"
B: "Dude!"
A: "You want some gum?" or "Want a piece?"
B: "Thanks!"
Panel 3 A: "Dude."
B: "Dude."
A: "So long."
B: "See ya."
Panel 4   [Girl is scornful of male monosyllabic communication,
but seriously, dude, *as if* she didn't understand every word of it. ]

My problem with panel 2 was visual, not linguistic -- it looked to me like the kid was showing off an injured finger, not offering a stick of gum. I think the injured finger interpretation would work too, dude-wise:

A: "Dude?" == "Do you believe this?"
B: "Dude!" == "You poor guy."

But it didn't really look enough like a cartoonish injury, and... Anyhow, thanks to Eric Bakovic, Melissa Fox, and John Bell for enlightenment.

Eric also sent the following example of transgenerational usage during Dave Perlmutter's office hours:

Student: "Dude, Dr. Perlmutter, that final exam you gave us? Dude!"

John Bell sent the following reminiscence:

I recall the first time I heard "Dude!" used as a general mark of approbation. About 23 or 24 years ago, I was playing a baseball video game in an ice cream parlor, and two kids aged about 13 were watching. When one of them realized that this game had some new features on it that previous versions didn't, he cried, "Dude!" It was clearly not directed either at me or his friend (nor, for that matter, at the action on the field, since I was an incompetent player).

(Correction. Since I'm writing this in mail(1), I'll just add it here: that was the first time I'd heard "Dude!" used that way in northern California. I had been hearing it in SoCal for at least a couple of years before that.)

And Melissa Fox added this:

I've been observing this term that repetition of the single word "dude" can constitute whole conversations, and have even taught a British friend of mine that it is entirely correct to answer "Dude!" with "Dude, I know!" (I even sent an e-mail to a fellow of my own college this afternoon pointing out a minor typo -- the sort of thing caused by what, in the US, we used to call a "brain fart" -- and finishing with "Dude!", which in that context meant "Surely you can't have meant to use this word instead of that word!"

Finally, I'll point out that although the history of dude must be generally similar to that of boy, man and so on, they're quite different in effect at this point, as (what I take to be) the non-equivalence of the following shows:

1. Oh man! Dude! [overheard the other day at Penn]
2. Oh dude! Man!


Posted by Mark Liberman at December 8, 2004 04:03 PM