Linguistic comics

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In Dilbert for 1/30/2013, a rhetorical implied question:

In Doonesbury for 1/30/2013, dialectological implication:

In Girls With Slingshots for Sept. 5, 2012, emphatic even:


  1. Faldone said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 11:17 am

    Urban Dictionary came through on off the hook, but I find interesting the use of dude in this context.

  2. Mike said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

    Is the use of dude to refer to women a recent thing? I've heard it used a few times that way by younger women (all creaky-voiced illiterate inbreds, no doubt), but it doesn't seem very widespread.

  3. Eric W said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

    @Mike: I first heard young (strong-voiced, literate, African-American) women call each other "Dude" in the early 2000's. I teach at a historically black university. I have not heard any young white women use the term this way, but I hear fewer of them.

  4. David B said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

    I've used 'dude' as a gender-neutral as long as i can remember. (42 years old, white, male, born and raised in Southern Maryland, FWIW.) It totally bothers my 13-year-old daughter, but my 11-year-old daughter uses it as a gender-neutral term, too (though they have quite similar linguistic backgrounds).

  5. William said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

    The duding here is interjectional, so it doesn't really matter that Erin is female. See also

  6. Tim T said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

    @David B: I have maintained that "dude is gender-neutral in my lexicon" since at least high school, when people started taking offense. I'm 37 years old, white, male, born and raised in Central Maryland, so maybe it's a Maryland thing.

  7. Keith M Ellis said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

    Dude has been becoming gender-neutral for awhile, especially in this more interjectional usage, as William points out, but even more generally, I think. It's not entirely interjectional in this usage, really.

    It's probably similar to the evolution of guys toward being gender-neutral, though with dude there's a strong subtext of both affecting a certain style of speech along with some irony. But my sense is that this use with knowing subtext is eroding that subtext and dude is on its way to just being gender-neutral.

    I'm certain I've seen this usage variously in media and I'm pretty sure that at least one friend uses it this way (but she uses the word quite a bit and she's in her late thirties). One television character I'm sure uses dude frequently and occasionally referring to women is the young, female sidekick on the Canadian cable television series Lost Girl.

  8. johnradke said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

    I'd have to disagree that "dude" here is interjectional, coming as it does at the end of the sentence. Compare "man", where if she said "man, your cooking is off the hook!", it's interjectional, whereas in "your cooking is off the hook, man!", it's vocative, to my 29-year-old Midwestern AmE mind.

    The latter, then, would have to be read either as intentionally (hopefully playfully) misgendering the addressee, or that the word "man" in this context is neuter. With "dude" directed at a female addressee, my perception is that it may have started off as jocular, but now it's generally considered neuter.

  9. Jeff Carney said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

    My 16-yr-old daughter calls anyone dude, regardless of sex. Her friends do also. She and I call each other dude when when the context is especially laid back and safe. At work, I call almost everyone dude. It's almost impossible to distinguish casual use from self-parody. It's OK because we're all pretty close. A few colleagues immediately put on their best Jeff Bridges when we meet in the hall. Duuuuuude . . . But I'm pretty sure my kid picked it up independently, as I never speak to her mother this way.

  10. Bill Hovingh said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

    @William: The name of my next band will be "Interjectional Duding"

  11. D-AW said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

    Do those who have neuter vocative or interjectional "dude" (as I do – I even "dude" my wife) also have neuter nominative or accusative "dude" (I don't)? e.g.: *That dude's baking is off the hook. She may have just cured cancer.

  12. Jeff Carney said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 3:49 pm


    Totally. I don't think twice about it.

  13. johnradke said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 4:06 pm


    Ah, good point! I do not. "Chick" would probably be the closest corresponding nominative I would use when referring to a female person. Interestingly though, I would also never use "chick" as a vocative for anyone.

    Language weirds my brain up uber crazylike.

  14. John Lawler said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

    @johnradke: Language weirding your brain up uber crazylike is one of the Seven Warning Signs of Linguistics. Be careful.

  15. David B said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

    @D-AW: I, like @Jeff Carney, totally have gender-neutral 'dude' in such contexts.

    "Check out the dude over there." Totally unremarkable, regardless of the gender of the dude.

  16. Ellen K. said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

    Jeff Carney and johnradke have given opposite answers to D-AW's question. So perhaps it is variable?

    Personally, I think "dude", like "guys" can certainly be used to specifically denote maleness.

  17. KevinM said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

    Dude IS a lady.

  18. D-AW said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

    Thanks for the responses. Summarized some of my intuitions (and yours) on this here:

  19. Brett said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 6:03 pm

    I definitely hear gender-neutral "dude" around, although I don't use it
    myself, and it's not common where I live now in the deep South. My
    eight-year-old daughter definitely considers the usage an unacceptable
    variant; she has taken strong exception to anyone referring to her as

  20. Rod Johnson said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

    Gender-neutral interjectional dude was pretty common when I was in high school in the early seventies. Gender-neutral isn't quite right; males wouldn't call females "dude," I don't think. All the other possibilities worked though. I hear truly neutral uses all the time now from my students though.

  21. dainichi said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

    I'll be the first one to admit that I don't understand the tweets in the Doonesbury cartoon. I don't use Twitter much, so I'm not afraid of deportation from there. I hope it won't get me deported from Language Log, though.

  22. rwmg said,

    February 1, 2013 @ 3:01 am

    I don't read Doonesbury much because much of it is incomprehensible to me so I may have got this completely wrong, but here goes. I think the reference to '4rth wall' in the tweet is a typo for '4th wall'. In theatre language breaking the fourth wall refers to addressing the audience directly instead of pretending that the front of the stage is a fourth wall in the room. So here it presumably means addressing the cartoon's readers directly rather than staying in the Doonesbury world.

    I think the "dialectological implication" comes from the use of 'bloody', seen as a marker of a British speaker and is a reference to the suggestion that a British chat show host called Piers Morgan should be deported from the US because of his controversial views.

  23. MsH said,

    February 1, 2013 @ 5:22 am

    In the Doonesbury one, the implication I hear is that the characters are being played by British actors (Hugh Laurie?), and the questioner is worried, or hoping, that the difficulties of breaking the fourth wall will induce them to reveal this fact accidentally by speaking in their native dialect. As it does with 'bloody hell'.

    It never would in real life, of course. Too professional and well prepared ;)

    If I got it right, I think it's genius.

    [(myl) I read it the same way. The use of "be on about" is also a Britishism.]

  24. dainichi said,

    February 2, 2013 @ 11:42 am

    Ah, thanks. It makes sense now. I failed to understand that it was about deportation from the US for speaking British. I thought it was deportation from Twitter for not speaking Twitterish.

  25. Nathan Myers said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

    I've heard "girlfriend" used interjectionally and vocatively, the latter manifestly referring to both male and female interlocutors, although it might occur only in movies and in people influenced by usage in movies. Would that disqualify it? (cf. "Only the Shadow knows.")

    Neutral, nominally female epithets seem rare.

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