Since the opening of the Big Lebowski movie in 1998, there can only be one Dude with a capital D, but the word dude has been around for much longer.
It is actually believed to come from an Old German word Dude (fool) or from the old Scottish word duddies (clothes). In any case, it started getting used in the late 1800s in the United States in reference to would-be dandies, as in the following extract.
“Last evening, as I was hurriedly walking along Dupont street, near Post, in the gloaming, I saw before me a young dude, who, instead of minding his business of walking decently, was projecting his face and hat into the visage of his girl companion to the left, while with his dexter paw he twirled a light cane, which extended half way across the curbstone, and which I tried to escape, but which, notwithstanding, hit me square upon my nose, which is a long one.” Etiquette on the Street, by Silver Pen in San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser, Jan 9, 1886
During the 20th century, the word slowly evolved, first referring to any Eastern city dweller moving to the American West, then to any tourist who doesn’t quite fit in (almost the opposite of redneck).
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Californian surfer/skater culture appropriated itself the word, and it became a synonym of “cool person“, then pretty much of “any regular person“, from the friend you’re talking to (Hey dude, what’s up?) to any person (What’s wrong with this dude?).
It has now become a “universal word” that can be used in pretty much any situation, almost like a punctuation sign.
- My dog died this morning. Dude 🙁
- You know what I mean, dude?
- ‘sup, dude?
- No way, dude!
- Like, dude?