How the Irish Invented Dudes


Dude, n.,a dapper dandy; a ‘swell,’ an affected, fastidious fop; a city slicker at a dude ranch. “Origin unknown.” (Barnhart Dictionary of English Etymology, 305.)

Dúd, (pron. dood), dúd(a), al. dúid, n., a foolish-looking fellow; a dolt, a numbskull; a clown; an idiot; a rubbernecker; a long-necked eavesdropper. (Dineen, 377, 378; Ó Dónaill, 459, 460.)

Dúdach, adj., rubber-necked; foolish-looking, queer. Dúdaire, n., a clown, an idiot (Kerry); a long-necked person; a dolt; an eavesdropper. Dúdálaí, n., a stupid person; an idiot; a self-conscious person.  (Dineen, 377, 378; Ó Dónaill, 459, 460, Foclóir Póca, 349, 350)

Dúd (pron. dood, a dolt) was a moniker Irish Americans slapped on slumming, dapper, wealthy, young “swells,” out on a “spree” (spraoi, fun, sport, frolic, a drinking bout) in the concert saloons, dance halls, and theaters of old New York. 

On February 25th, 1883, the Brooklyn Eagle defined the new word “dude” on the front page.

“A new word has been coined. It is d-u-d-e or d-o-o-d. The spelling does not seem to be distinctly settled yet…Just where the word came from nobody knows, but it has sprung into popularity in the last two weeks, so that now everybody is using it…A dude cannot be old; he must be young, and to be properly termed a dude he should be of a certain class who affect Metropolitan theaters. The dude is from 19 to 28 years of age, wears trousers of extreme tightness, is hollow chested, effeminate in his ways, apes the English and distinguishes himself among his fellowmen as a lover of actresses. The badge of his office is the paper cigarette, and his bell crown English opera hat is his chiefest (sic) joy… As a rule they are rich men’s sons, and very proud of the unlimited cash at their command….They are a harmless lot of men in one way…but they are sometimes offensive. No dude is a real dude who does not talk to a fellow dude in a loud voice during the play…The most eminent dude in New York is the son of a Wall street broker of considerable wealth…and his name has been muddied up with half a dozen dirty scandals.” (Brooklyn Eagle, Feb. 28, 1883, 1)  


The “dudes” of the Oxford English Dictionary believe “dude” is an artificial “slang” word, connected to the English aesthetic movement of the late 19th century.

Dude: “A factitious slang term which came into vogue in New York about the beginning of 1883, in connexion with the ‘æsthetic’ craze of that day. Actual origin not recorded.” (OED online, July 23, 2006)

This is a word-perfect example of an English Dictionary Dúd (pron. dood, numbskull) etymology, which allows for no Irish influence on the imperial English lingo, dude! 

Oscar Wilde was the most famous ‘æsthetic’ English “dude” in the world. Only Oscar Wilde was a brilliant, quirky (corr-chaoi, odd-mannered, odd-shaped), literary Irish dúd, (pron. dood, long-necked, foolish-looking fellow), instead.

THE DUDE (Brooklyn Eagle, 1885)

“Everybody has expressed a desire to define the dude, and yet there can be no better definition than this, that he is one who should be fined for appearing on the streets in men’s clothes. He is a result of Oscar Wilde, and is as much the furniture of nature and art as is the slim neckedstork…” (Brooklyn Eagle, Aug. 16, 1885, 6.)


The “dude” was an early “Stage-door Johnny.”


With Some of the Girls of the Gaiety Company

Waylaying Their Guests at the Theater Door –

Rude Young Men Who Took

The Everett Assembly Rooms Gallery by Storm…

“The New York morning papers were never more mistaken in their lives than when they said that the Gaiety girls did not go to the ball at Everett Hall last evening. They did go or, at least, enough of them went to make the dudes who invited them and who put up $25 each for the entertainment happy.” (Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 22, 1889, 4)

In the 1880s, the average daily wage for textile workers (for a ten-hour day) was $2.00 for men and $1.17 for women; if you were lucky enough to have a job. (Philip Foner, A History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. I, 1947, (1972), 442)  


At one point, there was a fear that the “dude” would become extinct.  

ALL THE DUDES ON HAND (headline, Brooklyn Eagle, 1884)

What Came of Answering a Newspaper “Personal”

A South Brooklyn Young Man Made the Victim of a Party of Jokers —

“A few days ago sundry South Brooklyn youths…had noticed with sorrow the gradual disappearance of the genuine dude, and feared…it would disappear like the dodo. It was resolved to see if any of the species still existed.” (Brooklyn Eagle, Aug. 17, 1884, 12)

But by the 1890s, “dudes” were dancing in the streets.  The hit song “Sidewalks of New York,” even featured a waltzing “dude”. 

“Little Nelly Kelly, with a dude as light as cork, learned to do the waltz-step on the sidewalks of New York.” (The Sidewalks of N.Y., James W. Blake and Charles E. Lawlor, 1890).

Soon, the word dúd (pron. dood, a dolt, a numbskull) was being applied to all dapper young “sports,” whether they were “swells” or not. “Big Dick” Butler was an Irish Hell’s Kitchen slugger (slacaire, a mauler, a bruiser) who styled himself a teenage “dude” in the 1890s. 

“My hair was slicked back from the right side, semi-pompadour…Oh, I was a dude, all right, a regular Jim Dandy.” (Butler and Driscoll, Dock Walloper, NY, 1934, 78.) 

Some “dudes” scrammed out west. 

“I’m a coyote of the prairie dude, hear me zip;In the company of gentleman I’m rude with my lip…”(J. Lomax, Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads, “The Bad Man from the Brazos,” ca. 1884, 1910, [1938], 138)

But, at the end of the day, “dude” could also be an angry epithet.

In Eugene O’Neill’s early play, Abortion, written in 1914, Joe Murray is an Irish-American mechanic from the other side of the tracks, whose sister has just died in a botched abortion. Murray confronts the Yale dúd, who dumped her with just enough money to pay for a back-alley abortionist.

“Murray: ‘…Yuh think yuh c’n get away with that stuff and then marry some goil of your own kind… I’ve always hated yuh since yuh first come to the house.  I’ve always hated your kind. Yuh come here to school and yuh think yuh c’n do as yuh please with us town people. Yuh treat us like servants, an what are you, I’d like to know? A lot of lazy no-good dudes spongin’ on your old men; and the goils, our goils, think yuh’re grand!” (Abortion, 1914, 217)

But, the last “woid” on “de dood” goes to the 1890’s cartoon character Mickey Dugan, the “Yellow Kid” of “Hogan’s Alley” and “McFadden’s Row of Flats,” whose Irish-American Vernacular speech became “woild” famous in Joseph Pulitzer’s N.Y. World and William Randolph Hearst’s N.Y. Journal.

It was de “Yellow Kid” who gave his moniker to de “Yellow Press.”

The Yellow Kid’s Diary

New York Journal, Nov., 18, 1898

“I seen me friend Mrs. Gould in one uv der boxes…But some of dem doods wot wuz sittin’ around Mrs. Astor comes fer me…De wimmin down stairs had dere hats off, as if dey wuz afraid de doods in de boxes wuz goin’ t’ t’row paperballs on dere heads… de doods wuz all dressed up.”  (Richard Outcault, cartoon: The Yellow Kid’s Diary, “He Goes to the Opera,” N.Y. Journal, Nov. 18, 1898.)

Dude is Irish, dúd.   (Unless you are an “English Dictionary Dúd.)

Dúd, (pron. dood), n., a foolish-looking fellow; a dolt, a numbskull; a clown; an idiot.

DANIEL CASSIDY is founder and co-director of An Léann Éireannach, the Irish Studies Program, at New College  of California in San Francisco. Cassidy is an award-winning filmmaker  and musician. His research on the Irish language influence on  American vernacular and slang has been published in the New  York Observer ("Decoding the Gangs of New York"),  Ireland’s Hot Press magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle,  and Lá, the Irish-language newspaper. His book,  The Secret Language of the Crossroad: How the Irish Invented  Slang, will be published by CounterPunch Books in Spring  2007. Cassidy was born in Brooklyn and lives with his wife Clare  in San Francisco. He can be reached at DanCas1@aol.com










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