Jul 16th 2013

The origins of the word “Dude”



The word “Dude” conjures up scenes from The Big Lebowski where Jeff Bridges’ character “the dude” would talk about himself in the third person using catchphrases such as “the dude obliges, his dudeness and more”

By the time that The Big Lebowski hit theatres in 1998, the word “dude” had already been in use for over 100 years.

From the late 1800’s to the 1960’s “dude” was used as a synonym for the word “dandy,” a male who dressed at the cutting edge of fashion and who cared deeply about their appearance.

In the 1960’s, “dude” slipped into mainstream American vocabulary to refer to a companion and in the 1970’s “dude” made it into surfer culture as a way of informally greeting someone: “hey dude, what’s up.

“Dude” is usually gender neutral, however there is a female version, “dudette,” which is used much less often.

“Dude” first appeared in popular culture in 1883 in reference to a lavishly dressed President Chester A. Arthur, with the caption, “According to your cloth you’ve cut your coat, O Dude of all the White House residents; We trust that will help you with the vote, When next we go nominating Presidents.”

Aside from The Big Lebowski, recent examples of “dude” in showbiz include the famous “duuuuuude” Budweiser campaign, and the early 2000’s comedy with Ashton Kutcher Dude Where’s My Car.

One of the origins of “dude” is suspected to be from the Scottish word for clothes: “duddies.”

Some scholars, however, believe that “dude” actually comes from the Swahili word “dude” (plural “madude”). The literal translation of “dude” in Swahili is “a thing of which you don’t know or have forgotten the name.” The locals in Central Africa in the late 19th Century would use “dude” to refer to the Christian missionaries.

Wherever the word “dude” came from, it has permeated popular culture. What movies have you seen that prominently feature the word “dude?”


Jul 10th 2013

Another 5 words needed in the English Language



Do you find yourself tongue-tied trying to describe the “spare tire” of weight that you gained after your recent breakup? Are you always rushing out the door to check if the friend you are waiting for has arrived and wish you could describe the feeling of tense anticipation? Here is our third list of words that are needed in the English language. 

1. Backpfeifengesicht back-fifengazisht (German)
A face badly in need of a fist. We have all met one of these annoying creatures who knowingly goes around offending people, who proudly crosses all lines of decency and constantly infuriates those surrounding them. The Germans came up with a word for them: backpfeifengesicht.

2. Hikikomori hikiko-moree (Japanese)
Literally means “pulling inward, being confined” or “acute social withdrawal.” It is a Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents or young adults who completely withdraw from social life. It is estimated that 1% of Japan (1,000,000 people) are living a hikikomori lifestyle and most of them are middle-class and supported by their parents. Could we classify the people sit alone in their basements playing 1000’s of hours of video games as Hikikomori?

3. Walla! waalla! (Hebrew/Arabic)
Like many words in Chinese, this expressive word used in contemporary Hebrew/Arabic has a meaning that depends entirely on intonation. Walla can mean really, wow, are you serious, and even more. This versatile word can describe astonishment and surprise when spoken slowly and softly. When walla is spoken quickly with a high pitched intonation at the end it can mean are you kidding me/are you serious?

4. Iktsuarpok ick-saar-pock (Inuit)
Iktsuarpok is the word for the tense anticipation that you feel when you are waiting for someone to arrive. It’s the feeling that forces you to check outside often to see if your visitor is close by. Now we just need a word for watching a pot of water boil.

5. Kummerspeck kumarshpeck (German)
The Germans vocabulary is quite expressive isn’t it? Kummerspeck is the word for the weight gained after excessive emotional overeating. The sobbing person sitting on the couch eating an entire bucket of ice-cream is a common sight after a tough breakup and now we know which word to use to describe the unfortunate aftereffects.

Do you have any words in your native language that need an English equivalent? Leave them in the comments below!

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Jul 10th 2013

A President or a donut? Small things can make a big difference in grammar!

There are countless examples of how a small grammar or spelling mistake in a sentence can instantly change its meaning both in English and other languages as well.

One famous example of how small errors can make a big difference lies in President JFK’s Berlin speech that occurred just over 50 years ago. The most memorable part of his speech was when he said, in an expression of solidarity with the West Germans, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Translated directly into English, this means “I am a Berliner” which seems fine. In German, however, there is no need to add “ein” as a definite article when you are referring to yourself. As such, many scholars argue that by using the indefinite article “ein” (similar to “A” in English) JFK unwittingly told the masses that he was a “Berliner” the inanimate, yet delicious, German donut with a jam filling rather than a resident from Berlin.

There is more than a small difference between a president and a donut!

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What small mistakes that make a big difference in English can you think of?

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Jul 3rd 2013

When did Americans gain independence from British English?


Color or colour? Neighbor or neighbor? Which is the correct spelling of these seemingly identical words? It depends who and where you ask. For Americans, the correct spelling would be color and for the British the correct spelling is the slightly longer colour.

Since it was the British that originally colonized the land that is the United States of America, wouldn’t it make more sense if these words were spelled the same rather than different?

When did it change, and why?

Historians trace the spelling changes in words like color, neighbor and others to just after the American Revolution in the latter part of the 18th Century.

As America physically distanced itself from the British, many Americans also wanted to distance themselves intellectually.

Noah Webster the “Father of American Scholarship and Education” authored An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828 and as more copies of this dictionary spread what is regarded as “American English” became standardized all across the United States.

Where do you live? Which spelling is used in your area and most importantly, how are YOU celebrating Independence Day?

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Jul 1st 2013

It’s Canada Day, eh? Discover the origin of the word “Canada”


A very happy Canada Day to all of the Canadians reading this! While we celebrate with maple syrup eating, red and white face-painting and hockey playing, do we really know where the word “Canada” comes from?

The answer is interesting and actually comes from an interaction between an explorer and native in the area that is modern day Quebec back in the 16th Century. One explorer asked the locals back in the 1500’s what the area he was standing in was called and the native replied “Kanata” using the aboriginal word for “village.” As such, “Canada” was used to refer to the lands modern day Quebec City.

The area that was described as “Canada” grew and grew until it became the name for the 2nd largest country in the world.

There is, however, another theory about where the name “Canada” originally came from.

A few people suspect that the word “Canada” actually came from early Portuguese explorers who did not find any gold and silver and labelled modern Canada as “cá nada,” (“nothing here”) on that part of their maps.

You can use these fun facts to impress your friends and if you have any interesting facts about Canada leave them in the comment section below!