Dude

Thanks to Caroline for sending me a CNN article on dude. Extract below:

An admitted dude-user during his college years, Scott Kiesling said the four-letter word has many uses: in greetings ("What’s up, dude?"); as an exclamation ("Whoa, Dude!"); commiseration ("Dude, I’m so sorry."); to one-up someone ("That’s so lame, dude."); as well as agreement, surprise and disgust ("Dude.").
Kiesling says in the fall edition of American Speech that the word derives its power from something he calls cool solidarity — an effortless kinship that’s not too intimate.

Cool solidarity is especially important to young men who are under social pressure to be close with other young men, but not enough to be suspected as gay.

Language Log also has very interesting things to say on the subject (click here, here, here and here.

I’ve come across dude when subtitling American films/TV series, and I often chose to not translate it. I just don’t think there is an appropriate equivalent in French. The best solutions I can think of, in some cases, are mon pote or mon vieux, but these two expressions just aren’t as flexible in their meaning as dude, which can be used to express a variety of emotions. For a start, you couldn’t use them on their own, they generally end a sentence : "Ça va, mon pote ?" (are you ok, dude?), "Tu veux aller boire un coup, mon vieux ?" (fancy going for a drink, dude?).

Once a proofreader inserted a mec (bloke, dude, guy) in my translation. I just don’t agree with that. I know that’s what the dictionary says, but it just doesn’t sound natural, I’ve never heard a French person use mec in the same sense as dude. As this word has only ever cropped up in my subtitling work, I have no qualms in not translating it when it is part of a sentence, as it is difficult enough to convey crucial information in the limited space allowed for subtitles. Besides, dude often indicates a certain level of familiarity between people, and this is conveyed on the screen. When it is on its own and used to express an emotion, I chose an equivalent interjection in French : for example, Ça alors ! (my goodness !) to express surprise, Tu plaisantes ? (you’re joking ?) to express incredulity, etc.

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UPDATE

Following a Language Log post on this post, I realised that when I gave equivalents of “dude”, like “ça alors !” (my goodness !) etc., I concentrated solely on translating its meaning and not its exact “dudish” level of language. Not a very good thing to do for a translator, but finding ways of conveying cool solidarity in French would have required a lot of research (I am 31 and these things no longer come naturally to me – wait – they never did!!) and I just didn’t take the time to do it. I’d be really interested to hear what English and French interjections people would use to express surprise or incredulity using “cool talk”…

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:35+00:00 December 13th, 2004|Words|9 Comments

About the Author:

Celine
I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.

9 Comments

  1. greg December 13, 2004 at 6:09 pm

    Although I bow to your superior knowledge of French, I have to disagree on your analysis of “mec”. I find “mec” to be very versatile, and almost as ubiquitous — at least in Paris. It has a bit of a menacing air to it, possibly because of its derivation. Of course, it isn’t a good translation of “dude”, but then neither are “mon vieux” or “mon pote”, which, as far as I can recall, are very rarely used. Maybe you’d have to go to verlan for something closer to “dude”. I’m not really sure what my point is, but I’m just sticking up for “mec”.
    Also, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the widespread use of “quoi”, especially as an emphatic end to a sentence. The best comparison I’ve been able to think of when explaining “quoi” to non-French speakers is to the English “like”, in its use by young ‘uns.

  2. céline December 13, 2004 at 6:44 pm

    Well Greg, that’s interesting. I must admit I’m not exactly a specialist in Paris talk and I can only draw on sources like the TV and the radio, in addition to the version of French I know best (South-West), to pass a comment on the use of “mec”. I wasn’t saying in my post that “mec” is rarely used, on the contrary, it is very popular as the equivalent of “guy” (US) or “bloke” (GB).
    It is “mec” as a translation for “dude” that upsets me slightly. I feel like translators/subtitlers/others are trying to force it into being an equivalent for “dude” (see “Eh mec, elle est où ma caisse ?” as a translation for the immortal cinematic triumph that I’m sure “Dude, where’s my car?” is), when it just doesn’t work! (image my voice getting shriller as this sentence progresses).
    “Dude” is a cool word. I’m wondering whether French speakers who know English and enjoy the coolness that it brings are desperately trying to recreate the same thing in French.
    I hope I’m not wrong and that what I perceive as a criminal linguistic faux-pas isn’t just a big hang-up of mine. It’s just that I have NEVER heard anyone use “mec” in the “dude” sense, and it just sounds very wrong to me. Can you think of a good French equivalent of “dude”?
    As for the use of “quoi”, it’s one of those things I’ve never even questioned. I’ll have a think. If you’re interested in the use of “like”, I remember reading a really great analysis in Language Log, you should have a look.

  3. ViVi December 14, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    I’m so glad Greg brought up “quoi” ending sentences all the time! As my French (very very slowly) improves, I am recognizing more and more words flying around me in “normal” conversation (i.e. not slowed down for my benefit). “Quoi” at the end of a sentence was one I just picked up recently.
    Another one is “n’importe quoi” which has me confused on its very common usage. If I remember well, the literal translation is “nothing,” but I hear this phrase bantered around a lot. I THINK it is being used as an exclamation like “unbelieveable!” in response to an incredible story or event.
    Sorry for hijacking your thread, Celine!! Regarding “dude,” I think I have seen “mec” used in movie titles (hubby and I prefer to watch movies in the original format, so if it’s American, we watch the VO and use French sub-titles, and vice versa) but I can’t think of a specific example. If I’m feeling adventurous I’ll flip through my DVD’s. 🙂

  4. céline December 14, 2004 at 1:13 pm

    Vivi, hijack away. I think the “n’importe quoi!” you mention means something like “nonsense!” more than “unbelievable!”.
    I know exactly what you mean about those annoying little words that add nothing to the meaning of a sentence but seem ubiquitous. I clearly remember the moment when I felt I was getting somewhere with my English: I was walking along chatting with my friend Beth, I said something and she looked at me quizzically. I had said something like: “I went to see it and I was, like, really amazed”. She said she was wondering where I had learnt to use “like” in this fashion. I was all proud of myself; I think that you know you’re starting to really master a language when you venture outside of what you’ve learnt at school and integrate colloquial phrases in your vocabulary. You’ll see!

  5. soar December 15, 2004 at 1:40 pm

    re: “fancy going for a drink, dude?” — I cannot imagine anyone using the words “fancy” and “dude” in the same sentance!

  6. céline December 15, 2004 at 1:44 pm

    soar: ah well, that’s why I don’t translate into English; that’s the kind of subtlety I’m likely to miss.

  7. soar December 16, 2004 at 4:30 pm

    Vivi: “n’importe quoi”, in my experience, has nearly the same meaning as the American (and elsewhere?) “Whatever!” — i.e.,
    “Do the dishes!”
    –“N’importe quoi!”
    céline: over on Language Log there is a report that there are now apparently British people who say “dude”, so maybe you’re on to something. As for an American native dude-speaker (me, for example) using “fancy” naturally… dude, I ain’t holdin my breath!

  8. Andréas December 30, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    I agree with Celine that ‘mec’ is a poor translation of ‘dude’ – i think there is no single word that could be used in every situation like dude. you have to translate each particular instance separately.
    however, i may be wrong, but i have in mind one scene from a film in which ‘mec’ is used a bit like dude, but with more menace. it is the scene in the film La Haine where Vincent Cassel is talking to a mirror, repeating, ‘Tu parle à moi, mec?’ .
    the exclamation ‘n’importe quoi’ is most often, if not always, short for saying that someone speaks ‘n’importe quoi’ , ie anything that comes into their head, so it is usually something nonsensical, blatantly false, outrageous, perhaps something that beggars belief etc.

  9. Jim January 4, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    My nephews (I don’t know about the nieces I confess because we interact differently) have very disturbing cool talk patterns – to me at least. They are both bilingual from the cradle with one native French speaking parent and one FLE parent. They both we’re at school in France until brevet and then in London. They do use “mec” a lot but not *always* in the surfer-boy-talk “dude” way. Sometimes it does look equivalent others not. Interestingly neither of them would use “keum”. When I asked them they dind’t have an explanation except to say that it would sound unnatural and possibly condescending. The very oddest locution they have – for me anyway – is the constant “sache, mec…” introducing an assertion with some emphasis as far as I can tell.

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