Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dude, where's my human hive?

On page 32, Capote describes Dick and Perry as "scrubbed, combed, and tidy as two dudes setting off on a double date..." This is interesting to me because of the use of the word "dude" and how it has evolved, about which some of you know I've long had a theory.

First of all, reading this today you might skip over the word "double" entirely as the notion of "two dudes" on a date is not that strange, if thinking of two men, although then you would say wait a minute, Capote so didn't write that then did he? Then you realize it's a double date they're setting off on, of course. With girls, presumably.

But also, "dude" is not just a guy here; it's that whole city-slickin' and primped connotation, right? I would be so fascinated to go back to the 1950s and early 1960s to hear that use of the word "dude."

Now, in the 80s, "dude" joined the Valley Girl-style speech. "Like, omigod, totally fer sure" etc. My generation will say the sentence, "Dude, that was amazing!" And we are nowhere in there referring to a male of any sort. It's just an exclamation. It's perfectly synonymous with "Wow, that was amazing." Or, in the 50s, maybe, "Gee, that was amazing!"

I discovered that we differ sharply from the previous generation in that respect --and I developed my theory -- back when I worked at Marketplace. One day I said, "Dude, something something" and my co-worker friend born in 1967 said, "Don't call me dude." Only, I so wasn't. And it was interesting to me that she would even hear it that way. I began to explore. I knew my sister (born 1972) used it the way "my" generation did. Where was the cut-off? I've since decided anyone born before 1970 lives in a different world vis-a-vis the word "dude" than those born during the great and glorious decade of bell-bottoms, shag carpet, and disco.

Also, I think the pendulum has swung back, though I think the early 80s kids still use it in that not-referring-to-any-person way. I hear, Hey! Where's my car?! while people around me hear Hey, buddy! Where's my car?

I'm reasonably certain this is endlessly fascinating to only me.

I also like the next two pages, wherein Capote describes sleepy little Holcomb, Kansas, which we all know is about to get not-so-sleepy, and the neighboring bigger town of Garden City, where despite citizens' denials class distinctions are in fact observed as clearly "as in any other human hive." Capote talks about people praising the good schools, friendly people, fresh air, and so forth of the community: "I came out here to practice law. A temporary thing, I never planned to stay. But when the chance came to move, I thought, Why go? What the hell for? Maybe it's not New York -- but who wants New York?"

I might venture to answer that. It's funny how often this has come up lately. I have such a major, vast appreciation for the wide open spaces and the small towns from which my family members hail and all that. But I do think, in the end, I could raise my hand and say, Me! Me! I want New York! I just don't need that so-called simple life that Capote is really evoking during these first few dozen pages. So many people want that. Are nostalgic for it even if they've never had it. I like visiting it, and then moving on.


Brian said...

In my vernacular, "dude" is the amalgamation of the two uses you have outlined: the first being the widely-accepted term for a male, and the second being the exclamation. When speaking to a fellow male, or group of males, I can often be found starting my sentences with "Dude...," even if it's not entirely necessary. It's just one of those quasi-noun/exclamations like "man" ("Hey man...") that are accepted into conversations as second nature. At the same time, I do not use the word when addressing a female. However, I rarely, if ever, use "dudes" in lieu of "guys" or "fellows" or "punks," anything along those lines, as a noun in the middle of a sentence. Along with most of my friends who also use the word, I have not crossed into using it solely as an exclamation - there is always someone who is the direct target of the "dude." I would agree though, that there is evidence of people who do use it solely as an exclamation, such as your foray into that territory when your female friend asked you to refrain from addressing her as a "dude," which is, of course, not what you intended. All in all, it's a word I actually like to use; I choose to use it over other ones like it as it rolls off of the tongue easily and is fun and harmless to say. Plus it is very amusing to use when doing impressions or caricatures of people who would use the term a lot. Lastly, Mr. Capote was right on the money with his use of the word, as you said, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition: a man extremely fastidious in dress and manner.

linda said...

Yes, "dude" is a fine, fine word to use when doing impressions. I just think it's so fascinating that those of us born during an apparent approximately ten-year period (1970-1980?) really grew up with the word not being a reference to anyone in particular. Much like, as you point out, "man." Many many people say "Man, that sucks!" or whatever and NO ONE hears them as speaking to some specific man. Did that come out of the 60s? That lasted. Why did our 80s dude revolution not have such long-lasting effects?