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dude

Speech

colloquially, a man; a discourse marker expressing masculine solidarity; an expression of astonishment when used alone

Issues

"Dude" was originally used to refer to a man who paid a lot of attention to his appearance, but became more broadly used to describe any man as part of African American Vernacular English in the 1960s. It was subsequently appropriated by white men in the 1980s, particularly on the West Coast, and has since grown to be used broadly by white men and women as a noun as well as a discourse marker.

When used as a discourse marker, it carries the connotation that the speaker believes that they are speaking to a man; however, as both a discourse marker and a noun, it is frequently used without regard for the gender or pronouns of listeners.

Impact

Regardless of the intent of the speaker, prefacing a statement with "dude" risks misgendering its audience and perpetuating a culture that favors traditional masculinity as the baseline for gender. Proponents of using "dude" commonly defend its usage aggressively by claiming that they use it in a gender-neutral way (which is not possible) and that anyone negatively impacted by its usage is wrong for not accepting that and chooses to apply the gendered interpretation. The argument fails to acknowledge that society dictates and reinforces gender, regardless of the individual interpretation. The ubiquity of that argument often deters those who are negatively impacted from bringing attention to the usage of "dude" as their experiences are often gaslighted.

Alt Words Mindfulness Note

Before using colloquial terms of endearment, it's important to be mindful of power and context. While our intent may be to make people feel at east or comfortable, we can have the opposite effect. For example, "buddy" or "pal" from an older person to younger person or a manager to employee can feel infantilising or pejorative; this becomes exacerbated because of the power differential in the relationship. The person in less power often isn't in a position to correct. There's no one-size fits all modal; instead we should seek to address people with consent first and course correct. It's not about getting it perfect at first, it's about getting it right in the end.

Alt Words

  • expression of astonishment
    • wow
    • oh my word
    • yikes
  • noun
    • y'all
    • friend
    • mate
    • fam
    • folks
    • pal*
    • buddy*

Further Reading

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