Writing for Oxford University Press's Oxford Etymologist blog, Anatoly Liberman provides an absolutely masterful overview of the (possible) etymology of the word dude. The short, true answer: no one knows where dude comes from. Then there are the longer, possible answers. Dude might be:
an abbreviation of Low German dudenkop “blockhead” (kop = Kopf “head”); the simplex German Dude has also been attested with the same meaning... A fanciful etymology connected dude with one of the preterit forms of do. Another bizarre guess had it that at one time New York dandies greeted one another with “How dew you dew?” A few letter writers thought that dude has ties with the name of the now extinct dodo....
Much more at the OUP blog.
[Image: New Yorker Evander Berry Wall, crowned "King of the Dudes" after winning the "Battle of the Dudes" in 1888.]
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