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The Nov. 10 Subnormality , featuring a tour of the Museum of the Theoretical, has a nice example of dude used as an interjection:


  1. richard howland-bolton said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 8:02 am

    That's a hell of a drop from the upper door, and where's the snow?

  2. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » “Dude.” [upenn.edu] on Topsy.com said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 8:03 am

    […] Language Log » “Dude.” languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2771 – view page – cached November 12, 2010 @ 7:26 am · Filed by Mark Liberman under Linguistics in the comics Tweets about this link […]

  3. Colin Reid said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 9:17 am

    Any ideas on the frequency of this use of 'dude' by gender? (The character saying 'dude' generally expresses herself verbally in a stereotypically 'masculine' way, and her role in the comic is to make jokes based on this.)

    [(myl) Not her *only* role. But yes:


  4. Uly said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 10:18 am

    Actually, I did have to walk uphill both ways.

    I also had to walk DOWNhill both ways, which was if anything, worse – nobody salted their sidewalks, and the hill terminated in two major streets. Icy terror five days a week!

  5. Bobbie said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 11:24 am

    I, too, had to walk uphill both ways — once near the school yard, and once for a hill in the middle of the trek… There was no school bus, the trip took several miles in snow, rain, ice, etc. And yes, I fell down on the ice more than once! (But I still think it is silly when modern parents pick up their kids at the school if there is even a threat of bad weather, rather than let them walk a few blocks!)

    [(myl) Me too. But the benefit was, I could stop and play in the creek on the way.]

  6. Tom Saylor said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 11:27 am

    Took me a while, but I just "got" the theoretical title of the Beatles' 13th.

  7. Adam said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

    Wonder if this is based on the Museum of Jurassic Technology

  8. Lazar said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

    I think Hurley from Lost is the king of both interjectional and vocative "dude".

  9. Russell said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 3:12 pm


    Not sure in general, but a quick search of a spoken speech corpus (Fisher) found (only?) 6 instances of turn-initial "dude". 3 were from men, and 3 were from women. Looking at the utterances I don't think I'd be able to guess the sex of the speaker. A couple samples:

    Male: dude anyway it doesn't have to be taiwan it could be
    Female: dude i love all that stuff

    If you include all 'dude's (including the referential ones), then it's 31 men who use it compared to 9 women. (actually, the corpus contains many more instances, but I don't have easy access to the sex information of those people).

    (someone w/ access to the corpus, feel free to correct/amend these numbers, since I did with some really quick-and-dirty processing that could have gone wrong)

  10. Nijma said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

    Wouldn't the gender of the person being addressed be more important than that of the person speaking? If someone referred to me as "dude" I wouldn't be sure what to think.

    Sort of like "man" in the 60s. Would you say "Hey, man, what's happening?" to someone who was not male?

  11. Ethan said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

    Gender-neutral use of "dude" is documented back to 1974 by the OED. The 2008 draft definition is "(orig. and chiefly U.S.). A person (of either sex). Freq. as a familiar form of address."

  12. Nijma said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

    You can probably say "man is it ever cold" to just about anyone too, in theory at least, but realistically how often does that really happen.

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

    @Nijma: I hear both dude and man addressed to women, by both women and men, but much less often than I hear it from men to men.

  14. groki said,

    November 13, 2010 @ 11:55 am

    @richard howland-bolton: That's a hell of a drop from the upper door

    that's why the bed is where it is.

    it's the em-dash I'm curious about: "In my day—" you know. vs "In my day"—you know. (I'd say the former, based on the space between the em-dash and the y.)

  15. groki said,

    November 13, 2010 @ 12:00 pm

    @Nijma: "man is it ever cold"

    I think I'd say that independent of gender. I'm certain I would for "boy is it ever cold."

  16. Jon Weinberg said,

    November 13, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    In the strip we're talking about, the speaker says "man" to her hypothetical (female) self.

  17. xyzzyva said,

    November 13, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

    @Tom Saylor
    I still don't get it. It's bugging me.

  18. Joshua said,

    November 13, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

    xyzzyva: I may not have gotten all the nuances of the reference, but "Imagine a Photograph of a Passing Jet" seems to refer to the Beatles' solo works which hypothetically could have been combined into a group album: John Lennon's "Imagine," Ringo Starr's "Photograph," George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass," and Paul McCartney's "Jet."

  19. Sili said,

    November 13, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

    Thank you, Joshua.

    My 'problem' with Virus Comics is that it makes me feel so very very stupid. (Not least for not always having the attention span to read everything.)

  20. J. Goard said,

    November 13, 2010 @ 11:52 pm

    Of course dude and man can now be addressed to women as well as men. That's why we had to come up with bro. ;-)

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 14, 2010 @ 9:36 am

    I don't think you can use "dude" with e.g. "is it ever cold outside" and have it mean the same thing as "man" or "boy" in that context. The latter seems a minced oath freely interchangable with various divine names and/or mincings like "my goodness" or "jeez louise," whereas interjective "dude" seems to me to imply a non-divine addressee who is in the room and part of the potential conversation, even if it's rather abstracted — i.e. it's "dude . . ." w/o a lot of clarity as to what would be said next. So I think this is some evidence that "dude" can be predicated of females, whereas the fact that Buddy Holly's song "Oh Boy" is addressed to a woman does not indicate that "boy" can be predicated of a woman, because the addressee of the song is not the referent of "boy" as used therein.

    [(myl) There's also Roger Miller's "Atta boy girl", where it's more plausible that boy remains referential, although its sex-neutral use is obviously specific to this context.]

  22. Nijma said,

    November 14, 2010 @ 10:26 am

    Very interesting, guys.

    But "oh boy" is different from "boy is it ever cold" and means something along the lines of "Oh, goody" or "delicious" :


    or even "oh, that's bad", as in "I wrecked your car" / "Oh, boy."

    BTW, although there are definitely some actual guy guys in the above thread, I don't think I would say "guys" as much in a group that was mixed or all female. There don't seem to be any similarly useful female gendered words–hey woman? oh girl? chicks? gals?–all sound either condescending or low status. (One of our office staff has taken to saying "hey lady" when female instructors come into the office–makes me twitch.)

  23. Jennifer said,

    November 16, 2010 @ 6:46 pm

    @Nijma: The lack of a respectful, neutral term for a young adult female human is definitely a problem. With males you have "guys" and "dudes" (and "blokes", although not in my American dialect) which are (at least to me) free of the developmental/age-specific implications of "boys" and "men." On the other hand, "girls", "gals", "chicks", and "women" all have additional implications that make them non-neutral; the only one useful as a vocative would be "ladies," but though I would greet a group of female friends with "Hey, ladies!" it sounds very strange to say "I was talking to this lady (chick/girl/gal/woman/young woman,etc)." I'm female, and to get around this, I would fairly comfortably refer to other females with "dude" or "Hey, guys!" A neutral female equivalent term in common use just doesn't seem to exist. :(

  24. Ellen K. said,

    November 16, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

    Regarding "guys", with "you guys" being a gender neutral plural you in apparently many varieties of English, it seems natural that some folks would use plain "guys" for females or a mixed group.

    As for the "dude" in the original post, I've totally no clue what it means.

  25. Ellen K. said,

    November 17, 2010 @ 10:51 am

    That is, for a female or mixed group when addressing them.

  26. Ray Dillinger said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

    "Dude" in the original comic is used in an almost paralinguistic way. It conveys that she's listening and finds the displays interesting, but it does so without any referent to a literal or even figurative meaning of the word "dude." She might as well have said "Wow" or something.

  27. Misha said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 9:26 am

    As a 60-year-old gay man (MA Linguistics 1975), I use/hear "boy" as a gender-free interjection (never a vocative), "man" as a gender-free interjection or vocative, "dude" as a vocative or interjection used by younger men, and "guy" as a sexually-charged noun EXCEPT in vocative plural contexts like "Hey guys" or the regular gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun "you guys." I was once fiercely taken to task by a lesbian for the unthinking use of "you guys" as a secon-person plural referring to a group of lesbians (needless to say, I have avoided further conversations with that particular lesbian). I have also clearly heard the gender-charged use of "guy" or "dude" in the shocked identification (by straight guys) of a man in drag: "it's a guy!" or (from younger men) "it's a dude, man!"

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