Tommy Lee can't utter a sentence without using it. Aerosmith had a hit song using it and Nickelodeon had a hit TV show with it. It has become a fixture of American culture and language appearing in all forms of media. Everyone has said it once or twice, no matter who you are, or what your age is - "dude."
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the entomology of "dude" is unknown, but it came into vogue in New York, sometime around 1883. Graphic Magazine described it as follows: "The 'dude' sounds like the name of a bird. It is on the contrary slang for a new kind of American young man. The one object for which the 'dude' exists is to tone down the eccentricities of fashion."
"Dude" is also defined as a city-dweller that vacations at Western-styled resorts, "dude ranches." It can also be used as a transitive verb, such as "duded up" meaning to dress up. There are also states of being listed as "dudedom," "dudeness," "dudery" and "dudism."
Speaking directly from my personal experience (I probably came into contact with "dude" sometime in the late 1980s), a "dude" was a California, stoner/surfer type with long hair and sunglasses (my imagination was probably influenced by Sean Penn's Spicoli character in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"). At that point, a "dude" was still a type of person.
As the years passed, being familiar with "dude" for over a decade now, the word has taken a new place in my vernacular. Instead of using it to define someone, "dude" has become more of an expression that is used in a variety of situations, with an uncountable number of meanings. In recognizing the meaning behind "dude," one must pay attention to the tone, pitch and volume with which it is said, and any physical gestures (with the eyes, hands, etc).
Instead of being used as a synonym for a California surfer, I now use "dude" to express anger, disbelief, irritability, happiness, a warning and even shock. While this may sound like a "stoner's vocabulary," it really isn't. I have heard men, women, whites, blacks, Asians and even once the elderly use "dude" in such a manner.
Here are a few situations in which I found myself or one of my friends using "dude" as an expression rather than a noun:
A friend and I are having a few drinks at a quiet bar filled with patrons who are less than eye candy. My friend has his back to the door, as two young, attractive women walk in. I stop in the middle of my sentence and with a subtle voice and the raising of my eyebrows say, "Dude." My friend immediately turns around knowing I'm giving him a "heads up" on the recently arrived female bar patrons.
I'm carrying a ridiculously huge number of my friend's drums outside his house to a van. My friend suggests I make two trips in order not to drop anything and warns me of a beat-down if I do. I assure him I can handle the load. What I couldn't handle was the snow and ice. After I fall, dropping two cymbals, a tom-tom, and a bass drum pedal, my friend shouts, "Duuuuuuuuuude!" meaning, "You idiot, I told you not to carry all that stuff at once, and now I'm going to thrash you while you lay helpless on your back in the snow."
My brother is waiting in the car as I walk into Mighty Taco to order food. He asked me to order him two burritos with no tomatoes. After paying the cashier and collecting the food, walking to the car I suddenly remember I didn't say, "No tomatoes." Hoping my brother won't notice the tomatoes, I hand him the burritos without a word. He takes a gigantic first bite and with a slimy tomato slice hanging from his mouth he looks at me and manages to utter, "Dude," expressing his grief at my inability to remember a simple request.
Where "dude" will go from here, I'm not sure. It has lasted for over a century now and appears stronger then ever, especially with teenagers and young adults. As I grow older and more professional I'll probably have to tone down my use of "dude," and on a sad day maybe even retire it.
But I'll know deep down in my heart the significant role that "dude" played in my life and will forever cherish it.