“Dude! It’s cold! Shorts?”
I glanced in the direction of the words as I jogged down Powers Avenue last Wednesday heading for the gym. They were coming from a boy, not much older than 9, who apparently was walking to Lincoln School. I turned my head back forward and continued on my way.
“Dude! It’s winter!”
I honestly don’t know why I answered him, but I did.
“I wear shorts to run year-round,” I said fairly loudly as I continued jogging and looking straight ahead.
It didn’t startle me that I had someone I didn’t know yell something at me as I jogged or bicycled by. You get called all sorts of things by all sorts of people. This kid wasn’t one of them. He sounded genuinely startled. Perhaps the fact the temperature hadn’t breached 43 degrees had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the fact I was wearing a sleeveless workout shirt as well as running shorts.
But what got me after taking a few more strides was the fact he called me “dude.”
The kid meant no disrespect - at least I don’t think so. Our age difference was enough that I could easily pass as his grandfather and almost as his great-grandfather.
It struck me strange for a 9-year-old to call a 57-year-old stranger “dude.”
Don’t get me wrong. I greet people I’ve never met before as “sir” or “madam” most of the time whether they are 19 or 99. I honestly don’t like being called sir myself. It is way too formal.
But my grandmother drilled into me the importance of showing respect for strangers when you first greet them so the habit of saying “madam” or sir” stuck. Grandmother also instilled in me the importance of opening doors for others regardless of gender, to take off your hat when you go inside, to remove your hat in the presence of a lady, and -if you had to do something as “nasty” as chewing gum - don’t spit it out on the sidewalk out of respect for others.
Since all of those traditions of civilized society are now archaic, I guess the words “sir” and “madam” are heading to the linguistic graveyard.
There was a time when the word “dude” was slang referred to Easterners vacationing at western ranches or a man who dressed sharp. That leaves me out on both counts.
On-line dictionaries - which are outdated in about 24 hours due to Tweet lingo or the double-speak of politicians and bureaucrats - say that “dude” refers to a guy and is typically uttered by stoners, surfers, and skaters. It can also be used as an interjection to express approval or satisfaction.
Given that, I’m completely lost. Did the kid mean he approved of the fact I was wearing shorts in 43-degree weather? Or perhaps that was the current socially acceptable way for today’s tweens to greet someone who qualifies for a senior discount?
The kid - based on the brief exchange and his demeanor sized up in a quick two-second glance - seemed pleasant enough.
It’s just that the quick exchange reminded me how there are more than 300 million Americans and even if we all speak English we communicate in different languages.
After that, I noticed a lot of guys who have never known a world without cell phones refer to girls as dudes. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, but as my grandmother would have said, “it’s not my cup of tea.”
Now that’s a line you should try sometime on a 9-year-old.
They’d probably look at you like you have an extra hole in your head.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209-249-3519.