25 April 2010, 0.06 CET
“Dude” is a magnificent specimen for discussing language change in general, because its meaning has shifted and shimmied a ton in a relatively short period of time.
Dude indexes a stance of effortlessness (or laziness, depending on the perspective of the hearer), largely because of its origins in the “surfer” and “druggie” subcultures in which such stances are valued. The reason young men use this term is precisely that dude indexes this stance of cool solidarity. Such a stance is especially valuable for young men as they navigate cultural Discourses of young masculinity, which simultaneously demand masculine solidarity, strict heterosexuality, and non-conformity.
In Boulder I hear “homey” and “bro” fairly regularly (not directed at me). I find both words awful (though not as awful as the Bay Area’s “hella”) and don’t recommend their use by sentient folk. With the right amount of Lebowski irony, however, “dude” can at times be precisely the right word to use.