The word abides

My affection for the word “dude” has increased with age. I had thought that my love of the word was simply related to my western migration, but I’ve been kicking around the West Coast for about a decade now, and the word “dude” continues to abide, increasingly infiltrating my vocabulary.

When I pause to think about it, the range of the word “dude” is truly staggering, particularly given that it tends to be such a chill, low-key word. One curious form that “dude” takes is as sort of a pause, a preparation for what’s next. As in “Dude, you’re gonna want to tune in to what’s coming next, cause it’s kind of a Big Deal.” And one might respond, in turn, with an affirmative “dude,” a sort of call and response that signals “I’m with you, dude, please proceed.”

In this sense, I’d suggest that the word “dude” functions similarly to the biblical term “Selah,” if I may utilize my rather over-priced biblical studies degree, a degree that has proved fairly useless (economically speaking). The term “Selah” usually occurs at the end of a Psalm, and much like the above “dude” example, it functions as a pause for reflection. “Selah,” i.e., “pause and contemplate.”

Come to think of it, “dude” also acts as something like an “Amen,” inserted at the end of something heavy, as when two or more dudes find themselves sharing a few beer, or perhaps a few White Russians. (Note: I must emphasize that I use the term “dude,” in this sense, in a strictly gender-neutral way, especially since there is no strictly female sense of the word “dude” — and as a side note this may be evidence for the word’s inherent revolutionary character, for while “dude” is typically used as a term referring to males, my own sense is that it acts as more of a genderless term, and god knows, we need more of those.)

In any event, a few dudes find themselves sharing libations, and like the dudes themselves, the conversation weaves and waddles, perhaps unexpectedly entering the territory of the profound. Things might suddenly seem a little heavier than anticipated, the vibe might have even become a bit awkward, yet suddenly one dude amongst them wishes to hold the space and acknowledge the perceived profundity of the moment (while still allowing the conversation to move on) — and that’s just the right time for one word: “Dude,” solemnly spoken, like a “Selah” or an “Amen” — solemn, but of course not too solemn. Heads nod, drinks are imbibed, and all of the dudes abide.


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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

2 thoughts on “The word abides”

  1. “while “dude” is typically used as a term referring to males, my own sense is that it acts as more of a genderless term”

    I call my wife and daughter “dude” all the time. A related term is “man,” also mostly genderless — or maybe pan-gendered. “Man” too seems western. Since moving from CO to NC I’ve gotten used to people call me “sir,” but recently a dude from Colorado moved in across the street, probably 30+ years younger than I am, who calls me “man.” Sounds like home.

    Liked by 1 person

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