In the 1880s, a new insult was beginning to be used in New York City. The term “dude” was replacing the more commonly used “dandy” to refer to young men who were overly concerned with their appearance and emulating the styles of English gentlemen.
Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Cohen, who is an expert in etymology, or the study of word origins, recently co-authored a book titled Origin of the Term Dude, along with Barry Popik and Peter Reitan. In the scholarly book, the three show how the term came about and where its roots are in the English language.
“Dude had long been of unknown origin, but at least much of its early story has now come to light,” says Cohen, a professor of foreign languages at Missouri S&T. “The book is the cumulation of research that started in 1993, when Popik discovered a poem titled ‘The Dude’ that was first published in a New York newspaper in January 1883.”
The word, first used in Robert Sale Hill’s poem, has changed quite a bit since that original usage.
“The present meaning has hip, cool overtones, but in the 1880’s, calling someone a dude was an insult,” says Cohen. “The term referred to the brainless, insipid, wealthy young men imitating what they considered to be refined British dress and speech but making themselves ridiculous in doing so. The humorists had a field day with them.”
The authors believe that three factors contributed to Robert Sale Hill’s term. “Doodle”, which appears in “Yankee Doodle,” and the now obsolete British term “fopdoodle,” which meant an overly dressed man. The latter part of “doodle” was removed, leaving “dood,” which Hill spelled “dude.” Cohen says that without Hill, the word may not be in the language.
“Also, I want to be sure to give my co-authors due credit,” says Cohen. “They’re extraordinary researchers and our work very much represents a team effort.”
Although he mainly teaches German courses at Missouri S&T, Cohen’s field of research is etymology, or the study of word origins, a field he describes as “enormously broad.” Cohen publishes a journal titled “Comments on Etymology” eight times per year. He writes about the possible or likely origins of words and phrases in the American lexicon, such as “abacus,” “kibosh” and “jazz.”
Cohen has printed only 80 copies of “Origin of the Term Dude,” explaining that its target audience is university libraries and anyone interested in the detailed study of a single word. For more information, contact Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Missouri S&T
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top 10 universities for return on investment, according to Business Insider. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.