rabbit holes, dudes, weir-poles and emulosity

Oh the rabbit holes of language-related website and blogs, words and meanings!

I was reading Niall O’Donnell’s latest post and noticed at the side a picture of Jeff Bridges’ character in The big Lebowski (which I have never watched, but recognise most allusions to). Niall’s Instagram post says “Probably from the Scottish word for clothes ‘duddies,’ where we also get the word ‘duds.’”

On the other hand, dictionary.com says “An Americanism dating back to 1880–85; origin uncertain” (but being an Americanism doesn’t stop it being “from Scottish”). The first dudes were “excessively concerned with clothes, grooming, and manners”, which hardly describes Bridges’ character; partly because of this movie, one would now expect a dude to be rather scruffy and laid-back.

The five contemporary examples and three of the historical examples are unexceptional, thought we might have to think for a moment whether the writer means a ‘fastidious dude’, a man from an Eastern US city vacationing on a ranch, a ‘scruffy dude’ or just ‘any dude’’ll do.

The two others caught my eye, not for dude, but for something else in the sentence:

I allow you to—er—ornament my weir-pole, and ’tain’t every dude I’d let do that.
Cape Cod Stories [1907, short stories, scroll down to The mark on the door]
Joseph C. Lincoln

Having a dude puncher on our range kind of stirred up my emulosity.
Out of the Depths [1913, a western novel, scroll down to chapter XXI]
Robert Ames Bennet

My first thought was that a weir-pole was a euphemism for … something, and that ornamenting a weir-pole was a euphemism for … something else, but my second thought was that it was something like a barge-pole, which could actually be decorated. (Are there any barges in Cape Cod?) Closer. A well-known search engine took me to Wikipedia’s article on fishing weirs, which are easier explained in a picture than in words:


In the story, the local yokel narrator describes it as “a kind of pound, made of nets hung on ropes between poles”. He leaves a city (Boston) dude (“His togs were cut to fit his spars, and he carried ’em well—no wrinkles at the peak or sag along the boom … his hair was combed real nice—the part in the middle of it looked like it had been laid out with a plumb-line. Also, he had on white shoes and glory hallelujah stockings”) clinging to one of the poles as the tide comes in, in revenge for his previous treatment of himself, and his dishonourable intentions towards a local girl. So the weir-pole is literal (and littoral) but the decoration is figurative.

Is a dude puncher a dude who punches, or someone who punches dudes? The well-known search engine pointed me in the direction of an Australian man who punched a kangaroo which was threatening his dog, but also to The dictionary of the American west, where the entry focuses on dude ranches: “The  word [dude] may still carry some of the original implication of a greenhorn, a person who doesn’t know his way around a ranch, a horse, or a cow. It sometimes suggests a person decked out in city clothes or in a fancy way.” It gives “dude puncher and dude wrangler (cowhands who take care of dudes instead of cows and horses, respectively)”, and also “dude chaps”, which sounds like an American-Anglo tautology, but “means a fancy looking item [of clothing or ranch-related gear] that would embarrass any self-respecting [ranch-]hand”.

So why would having a dude puncher on your range stir up one’s emulosity? Indeed, what is emulosity anyway? The well-known search engine couldn’t find it, and suggested emulously, emulsify (which is what Pages for Mac’s autoreplace changed emulosity to), epulosity (“feasting to excess”) and ominosity (which autoreplace changed to luminosity). Emulous, and by extension emulosity, is related to emulation, which has a good and bad meaning: the good meaning is “desirous of equaling or excelling”, and the bad is “Obsolete jealous; envious” (there’s probably a fine line between those two at the best of times). Without context, it is impossible to know which meaning is intended, and plunging into chapter XXI of a full-length novel doesn’t provide enough. There is only one dude puncher in the whole novel, who seems to be a cowboy newly arrived from Chicago (that is, actually cowboying and not just holidaying), and searching for puncher shows that different people are referred to that way. Indeed, the person whose emulosity has been stirred up by the dude puncher on “our” range is “the puncher”.

I’ve procrastinated too long to investigate further.


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