SAN FRANCISCO — Hey, dude. No, not you, walking down the street, talking to yourself. Wait, is that your cellphone? Well, then you, the one with something streaming in your ear.
And you, too, about to punch some pads and send electrons whirling into space. Yes, you dude. And a few hundred million of your kin across the globe populating your demographic zone, Gen Y or Z or whatever terminology the trend-spotters have recently chosen for you.
Listen, dude. A word about your dudehood.
Do you know that when I recently looked up this label which has been echoing around my house the past seven years (since my son became a teen), I had a rude awakening. Up till then, I thought that you, urban dude, were cool. How could I think otherwise? The word "dude" resounds around our house all hours of the day and night, whether dudes are present in the flesh, or simply clamoring in cyberspace.
Hey, dude.... How's it going, dude...? Just kickin' it, dude.
Rarely has there been sufficient silence in the American household since the 1980s (when linguists tell us the term wormed its way into our culture) to raise a dude who has an existence apart from his brethren.
Which I think is rather strange.
To me, dudehood evokes the Western plains, pungent cowherds, searing campfires, tangerine sunsets, and most of all, the great big expansive aloneness of it all. Independence, self-reliance, making do with the scrimped necessities of existence. Out there, amid the tall grasses, with only your wits and four-legged fur for company. And only a very occasional barroom brawl with other dudes, who are there not as supporting characters in your life, but as part of the scenery.
So much for my cinema dude, the iconic image which fills the millions of "hey dudes" ricocheting around the world 24/7 with panache, with bravado, with plain ... well, dudehood.
Hey, dude.... What's happenin', dude...? Just chillin', dude.
Well, sorry to barge in on the fantasy, but from my baby boomer perch, I've got to send a soft and fuzzy silver bullet in your direction, Gen Z.
Your generation of electronic cellmates is probably the most codependent bunch that the technological roulette of history has yet produced.
It's not your fault. It's just that you're so connected, so online, so messaging, so inexhaustibly available, that in the midst of this togetherness, how does one find you? Yes you ... and you ... and you. How does one grow a genuine someone?
Well, I'll help out. For here is where my rude awakening (mentioned earlier), comes in. I looked up dude in Webster's, seeking precision. And guess what? Dude ain't what it's cracked up to be. At least not if my own understanding of the term constitutes its common misunderstanding.
Dude is not the rough, tough, crude, rude loner. Dude (think dude ranch) refers to "a man extremely fastidious in dress and manner; a city dweller unfamiliar with life on the range; an Easterner in the West."
Get it? A fop, a popinjay, a poseur, a dandy. Just a few alternate terms from yet further recesses of history. Not a pretty picture. And not what you meant at all, is it dude?
I suspect this bit of revelation won't disentangle "dude" from the tongues of a generation. It has become a verbal salute, so down-homey that it almost transcends its electronic entanglements. As for issues of derivation, real or assumed, this generation is so exquisitely attuned to the present, that the past is, well, just history.
Isn't that right, dude?
• Anna Shaff is a dude-mom and a freelance writer in San Francisco.