Meaning: Slang term for cool guy or cowboy, although meanings have shifted and accumulated over the years.
Usage: “I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. That, or His Dudeness… Duder… or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing.” ― The Dude, in The Big Lebowski
You should know it because: After the sensitive vegan guy of the ’90s, the metro man of the early ’00s, and the pretend lumberjack of recent years, the Dude is back. I mean, have you seen Ryan Gosling in Drive? With his inexplicable scorpion jacket, wordless demeanor, and slaying looks, he defines movie Dude-dom. It’s a tradition picked up from a slickly rebellious mid-century, when Steve McQueen and James Dean ruled the screen. (To see the latter’s famous Rebel Without a Cause in cinemas again, visit the TIFF Bell Lightbox; it’s playing as part of their Nicholas Ray retrospective, beginning now.)
Interestingly, dudes weren’t always so cool. The first use of the word was mid-1800s, to describe a fastidious dandy type; apparently, the first Dude was New York Express editor Erastus Brooks. The word went through several permutations, coming to mean something more like “geek” in pre-McQueen times, but by the ‘80s, it was firmly entrenched in the pop lexicon with a picture of Keanu Reeves next to it. (In Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Reeves says Dude 10 times in the first 15 minutes.)
Now the word’s come almost full circle, as seen in a recent WWD article satirizing the rise of “dude-itors”: fastidious, glossy-mag editors who like to pretend they’re just bro-ing down.