A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 20, 2004
Dude
The "dude" craze began in New York City in 1883. The figure had existed before under different names, such as "swell" and "dandy" and "fop" and "masher." Oscar Wilde's 1881 trip to the United States further popularized this personage.

The origins of the word (Yankee doodle? duds?) are uncertain, but the popularization of "dude" is clear. I examined the "dude" in depth in the October 1993 issue of Gerald Cohen's Comments on Etymology.

The "dude" still survives today in the New Yorker figure of Eustace Tilley. The word "dude" has undergone many changes.

I discovered the following poem that really started it all.


14 January 1883, New York World, page 9:
The True Origin and History of "The Dude"

[The following "pome," somewhat inscrutable by THE WORLD is published as of probably interest, "to whom it may concern," like A. Lincoln's Niagara letter to Horace Greeley]:

Long years ago, in ages crude,
Before there was a modem oh!
There lived a bird, they called a "Dude,"
Resembling much the "Dodo."

Its stupid airs and vanity
Made other birds explode, so
They christened it in charity
First cousin to the "Dodo."

It plumed itself in foreign plumes,
And thought home products no=-o
For idiocy it ranked with "Lunes,"
And hence surpassed the "Dodo."

When Darwin's theory first saw light,
"The Dude" he tried to think of,
But monkeys being far more bright,
He made the missing link of.

Not lately in this hemisphere,
Through some amalgamation,
A flock of Dudes, I greatly fear,
Are added to our nation.

In form and feature rather young-
Somewhat resembling man, sir-
They flit about and speak a tongue
That is not worth a d--n, sir.

Their features, first I would explain
Are of the washed-out order-
Mild dissipation, feeble brain,
With cigarette smoke border.

Their feathers o'er their brow they bang,
Their cheek resembles leather;
Their style, inclusive, is in slang,
The "Strike me with a feather."

Their father's cuff supports a hat-
The head just seen between them;
A coachman's riding coast at that
Envelopes and screens them;

Save just below the coat is seen,
Where muscles ought to be, sir,
A pair of pipe stems, cased in green,
Skin-tight and half-mast high, sir.

To this please add a pointed shoe,
Verandas built around it;
A necktie, either white or blue,
C'est fini, if you doubt it.
(...)


15 January 1883, New York World, pg. 5:
Great excitement was caused yesterday in the clubs by the news of a great disaster resulting from the publication in THE WORLD yesterday of what was intended to be a harmless lecture in verse on the natural history of the Dude.

24 February 1883, New York Mirror, pg. 2:
THE DOOD
During the past few days a new and valuable addition has been made to the slang vocabulary of the period. It is not only likely to rival in popularity the favorite word Masher, but it gives early promise of entirely superseding it. We refer to the term "Dood." For a correct definition of the expression the anxious inquirer has only to turn to the tight-trousered, brief-coated, eye-glassed, fancy-vested, sharp-toes shod, vapid youth who abounds in the Metroplis at present. He is a Dood. Where or how the name originated we cannot say.

25 February 1883, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, pg. 1:
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, but custom will soon regulate it. Just where the word came from nobody knows, but it has sprung into popularity within the last two weeks, so that now everybody is using it.

3 March 1883, New York Post, pg. 2:
THE CEVELOPMENT OF THE DUDE

2 April 1883, Brooklyn Daily Times, pg. 2:
The Dude
Our language has been enriched by a new word; the "Dude." The article to which the name applies is not new, however; it is an old thing in a new dress and a high collar. The Dude, in short, is a fop, a little more lifeless, a little more stupid, a little more negative than the average fop...

9 April 1883, The Morning Journal, ppg. 2:
The Dudine

28 April 1883, Brooklyn Sunday Eagle, pg. 2:
Now the young man saves his cash,
And lunches straight on hash,
So's to be all sound for Coney Isle;
For when summer breezes blow,
He will to the sea side go,
And with his dudette spend his pile.


There's a lot more on this New York character. The dude is worth a book, but I'll stop here.



Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWorkers/People • Tuesday, July 20, 2004 • Permalink