The Dude Abides
June 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Hey, Dude.” How’d we ever “dude” without ya’?
Google “Dude” and you get just under half-a billion hits. Even “bro,” which is often coupled with “dude” these days in conversation (I use the term “conversation” generously), rates just over 340 million hits.
The term “dude” was first used (as far as we now know) in print in 1870, in Putnam’s Magazine. But 1883 was the year “dude” vogued its way like an army of Oscar Wildes into the American lexicon, as few other words have done before or since.
In 1883 a political cartoon of our refined, well-dressed President, Chester A. Arthur, featured the caption, “According to your cloth you’ve cut your coat, O Dude of all the White House residents; We trust that will help you with the vote, When next we go nominating Presidents.”
“Dude’s” first popular use began, as have so many national crazes such as cocaine use (about a year later), in 1883, in New York City. Oscar Wilde had just spent a year lecturing throughout the United States and Canada, creating an “aesthetic” craze” which in turn begat the “dude,” who was described as a “fastidious man.” Many of these aesthetes adopted Wilde’s habit of wearing a sunflower in his jacket lapel buttonhole.
Originally used in reference to the devotees of the “aesthetic” craze, “dude” was later applied to city slickers, especially Easterners vacationing in the West (the first use of “dude ranch” is currently documented in 1921), and subsequently entered surfer and hippie slang.
Its prominence in the English language revived and grew in the 1970s and 1980s. The greatest “dude” of recent times, was, of course, Jeff Bridges’ character in “The Big Lebowski.”
Austin and the rest of Texas quickly fell under the spell, or spectre, of the “dude,” in 1883, mostly begrudgingly.
In Austin, “dude” debuted in print on April 10, 1883: Several ladies riding in a street car where a “dude” was “spreading himself,” remarked that if the street railway company would attach a Pullman sleeper to the cars, young men (?) could stretch themselves out in a manner more comfortable to their tired, weak intellect and physique, and more decent in the presence of ladies. Boys, keep your feet off the seats when ladies are in.
May 31, 1883
Slang is shortening the luxuriance of language by the substitution of inelegant conciseness. “Dude” is shorter than “dandy” and means more.
June 1, 1883
A dude and a dudelet on the street,
Upon the street so sandy;
The dude he wooed, the dudelet cooed,
And nibbled rose-cream candy.
Lanky dude and dudelet dear,
Lanky dudy dandy.
June 20, 1883
The Dude in Austin.
The word “dude” is of recent coinage, and can only be defined approximately. A dude resembles a man in a great many particulars, though the points of resemblance vary with different localities. It has been suspected for some time that Austin was developing a dude or two, and recent observations lead us to admit that we now have several specimens of this rare struggling for existence in this un-congenial altitude and climate.
The dude in the Crescent city differs from the dude in New York, for the latter class are a cross between a base imitation of London swells and nothing; in New Orleans the dude affects the French, while in Austin he does not affect anything in particular. He dresses in a pair of pants that fit him like a banana peel, except where the legs “flair” out in funnel shape; his shoes are so pointed that he daren’t climb a hill lest he stake himself out; his coat strikes him about midships; and is of the very latest novelty in material and colors; he wears the “loudest” hat in Austin, thus being so far of the regular travels of fashion as to be odd, and he proudly pulls out a fashion book he carries, if you remark on his dress, to show that he is in style while you are woefully left; he usually parades the Avenue with a measured step that leaves the erroneous impression in the eyes of beholders that he is in misery – and he, too, fearing that he may make a false step and disgrace himself by walking with step that is undudelike.
When he walks the streets after office hours in the afternoon, to exhibit his many points of beauty, he never turns his head to the right or to the left, except to make a stiff and dignified bow to a passing congressman, or United States senator, or active governor, or to make one of his elaborate salaams to a lady acquaintance. This is his main point. He considers that when he stops in his soul-inspiring efforts to attract public gaze and admiration long enough to make a bow to a lady, that it is a coup de main in the social world. He never suspects that the ladies are convulsed with laughter at his expense. He never lets the thought find lodgment in his infinitesimal brain that people treat him with so much tenderness because they regard him as placed under their care by a special Providence that expects the strong to care for the weak.
He never allows himself to come into contact with any one while in exhibition attire; he will have a crowded street car before he will allow anyone to touch his clothes. He is in Austin, and has it mildly, though becoming worse every day. Don’t be afraid of him, he is harmless, and has an idea that all the intellect in man is to be known only as it can sniper, and fawn and dress and affect airs and attract attention, and ape, and show as little common sense as possible. He is generally very good-natured, though, if you dare approach him; and so it is not right to make fun of him.
July 7, 1883
A real, live dude created quite a sensation on the streets of the capital yesterday.
November 2, 1883
The following humorous sketch of one of Austin’s famous fellow citizens is clipped from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
There were several pen scratches on the register at the Southern hotel to-day, which had the general appearance of a party of spreeing bloods on suits. With the aid of the clerk and a few bystanders, a reporter managed to decipher the name, “J. Armory Knox, Texas.” The reporter’s labors were just ended when a thin-faced man with English whiskers and moustache of uncertain color, a plug hat and wellington boots, the tout ensemble of an eastern dude, sprinkled with a concentrated extract of Texas flower, appeared in the corridor. It was the Siftings man himself. It was learned from a passenger on the same train with Mr. Knox that he is sustaining his reputation as a fighting man, having slapped a Kentuckian in the face for having insulted a lady. “He was across between a dude and a broken-down sporting man and sailed hastily. But I had the whole car load to back me,” said the Texas terror, with a fierce glare in his eye.
July 12, 1885
A Center Shot.
A young dude was standing on Pecan street yesterday, staring boldly into the face of every lady passing. Presently two stylish ladies passed, and, as usual, the “masher” gave them one of his killing stares. The young lady thinking this an opportunity to teach a wholesome lesson, placed her hand in a paper sack she was carrying, and drawing forth an unwholesome peach drew back her right hand and let the masher have the peach in the right eye. It was a center shot, and ought to be a lesson to some of Austin’s young dudes.
And my personal favorite, from December 1, 1883:
The City Dude.
with dome of straw or felt.
A brow of snow,
and * my eyes that
glow and melt with love
or ardor never felt.
but wreck I make
of ladies’ hearts I know.
This manly breast beneath
my vest the clothier’s skill
doth show, a glittering pin my
scarf stick in, I mash where–
e’er I go; with dainty smile
the girls beguile, I’ll mash
where ‘er I go; and so ’tis plain
a jaunty cane makes up my style
as down the street the ladies meet
and greet me with a smile;
a slender waist just to my
taste more shapely form hath
never graced; my bobtail coat
like Billy goat as I !!!!
go by to every eye
reveals to view to
all or few the fitness
of my pants
reveals my legs,
but pegs serve me
so well to walk
or dance as with
a girl I take
a whirl or in the
the tailor’s art
doth so impart
sure to please.
Next are my
feet in calf so
neat, the ladies all
both great and small,
or maid or prude demure or rude,
cry out and shout oh what a dude!