Strausbaugh's dismissive comment on "dude" (was Re: Eggheads' Naughty Word Games)

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Tue Dec 28 17:37:47 UTC 2004

Laurence Horn writes (12.28.04):
[...] one of the apparently too-silly-to-contemplate titles mocked in the article is the eminently interesting "Dude!  Your dress is so cute!  Patterns of semantic widening in 'dude'", which, Mr. Strausbaugh informs us, represents "an almost abject embrace of low/popular culture".  Evidently, if "dude" used to be applied solely to males and is now generalized to women as well, at least as a vocative, and thus is following in the footsteps of "guy", this isn't something we need to worry our pretty little heads about. [...]

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        I join Larry Horn in wondering about Strausbaugh's mocking of the MLA "dude" paper. It's certainly possible to gain an understanding of low/popular culture without embracing it. In fact, one can gain a better understanding of any number of subjects without embracing the culture of the group being studied.
        This is so basic, it's almost embarrassing to have to mention it.
Now, as far as "dude" itself goes, there's some very interesting information connected with the popularization of the term in 1883, its etymology, the field day the 19th and early 20th humorists had with the "dude," and the term's semantic changes over the years.
        When time permits, I'll compile the material that Barry Popik and I have collected on this whole subject. It will likely be a book or at least a significant portion of one. (Barry and I will be co-authors).
        If Mr. Strausbaugh is interested, I'll be happy to provide him a complimentary copy when it appears in 2 years or so. (He need only contact me at any time and ask for one.). Over the past 30+ years I've treated the etymology of many different items--both classical (e.g. Greek agap-) and non-classical (e.g., the story behind "gung ho."). And without doubt the study of low/popular speech is a highly interesting topic--worthy of study in its own right and for the insight it can provide into broader issues in language.

Gerald Cohen
Professor of German and Russian
University of Missouri-Rolla
Rolla, MO 65409
email: gcohen at

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