Dialect, dinkum, and dude

Those are the latest three topics I’ve covered in my language column at Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

Being bidialectal explores how our accents and dialects can change with circumstances, with some keen observations on dialect loss by Zadie Smith. Multidialectalism often starts at school:

Through formal education, many of us learn a standard or prestige variety of a language for use in public or formal contexts. Shifting from one variety to another – going from a work meeting to an informal chat, for example – is known as code-switching.

The fact that different dialects are appropriate in different spheres of life means that people generally become bidialectal or multidialectal. Though these adjectives may be unfamiliar, it’s the same idea as bilingual and multilingual, but with different dialects of the same language.

Dude, where’s my etymology? is the inevitable title for an outline of the curious history of dude. The word’s ultimate origin was a mystery for decades:

Dude started off as a word similar to dandy, referring mockingly to ‘a man who cares a lot about his appearance and always wears fashionable clothes’. An early citation in the OED refers to ‘highly perfumed town dudes wearing creased pants’. This led to the phrasal verb dude up, meaning to dress up or accessorize fashionably: a 1958 New Statesman article referred to ‘country cousins duding up to impress less snappy dressers back home’. From this emerged sense 1a, ‘a man from a city in the eastern U.S. or Canada who goes on vacation to a western ranch’, which is connected to the phrase dude ranch.

The dinkum oil on ‘fair dinkum’ looks at the range of uses and senses of a famously Antipodean word whose etymology has invited some creative speculation:

The dinkum oil [true facts] about dinkum is that it probably originates in English dialect. Joseph Wright, in his pioneering English Dialect Dictionary, reports the word’s use in Derbyshire and Lincolnshire in the late 19th century to mean ‘work’ or ‘a due share of work’. He also cites an early Australian example, in the novel Robbery Under Arms: ‘It took us an hour’s hard dinkum to get near the peak.’ According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word may come from Middle English ding, ‘to work’.


8 Responses to Dialect, dinkum, and dude

  1. jktilsley says:

    The ‘Dude Ranch’ makes an earlier appearance in fiction in Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Lady in the Lake’, pub.1943. “In my Chrysler a thin, serious-looking, brown-haired girl in dark slacks was sitting smoking a cigarette and talking to a dude ranch cowboy who sat on my running board. I walked around the car and got into it. The cowboy strolled away hitching his jeans up. The girl didn’t move.”

    • Stan Carey says:

      That’s a nice example of the phrase, and it makes me want to reread Chander. I’m not quite sure what your ‘earlier’ refers to; the OED dates dude ranch to 1899.

      • jktilsley says:

        Aha, I see I didn’t check the ‘early citation in the OED’ (I didn’t see a date in the article). And Chandler is always worth re-reading!

  2. Raymond Lebowski says:

    In “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistres”, the great American science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein uses “dinkum” in his great novel about the Loonies (residents of the Moon) rising up against the Terrestrial authorities to gain independence for “The Rock”. In the Loonie patois, it is a noun when describing good work (“fair dinkum”), and an adjective when talking about the lunar master computer, whose emerging sentience, known only to the protagonist Manuel Garcia O’Kelly, makes the revolution possible (“that dinkum thinkum”).

    BTW, the similarities between Luna under Terra to Ireland under the English will not be lost on the perceptive reader.

    • astraya says:

      Related to the Big?

      • Raymond Lebowski says:

        The Dude Abides.

        If it did nothing else, that movie that finally taught people how to spell my name correctly. One of my favorites–someone wrote a stage version in Shakespearean style, and my hope is to play, not “The Knave” or “Sir Walter”, but “Sir Donald”.

  3. astraya says:

    I blogged about ‘dude’ in late 2018, but didn’t find Allan Metcalf’s discussion, despite being a regular LF reader.
    I don’t say ‘dinkum’ or ‘fair dinkum’ very much.

    • Stan Carey says:

      It’s a shame that Lingua Franca was discontinued – and that we have to use the Wayback Machine to link to it now. There probably isn’t a book’s worth of material on the etymology of dude, unlike Metcalf’s OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.

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