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Why would anyone call a 61-year-old man a dude?
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

"Dude, you read my mind."

I had walked over to the weight rack in the group exercise room at the In Shape Monday morning to grab more weights for my barbell after the substitute instructor said she was going to switch to dead lifts.

The comments came from the instructor who was somewhere in her 20's to my 61.

I couldn't restrain a slight eye roll.

It's not that I was offended. It was the absurdity.

In less than 10 months I qualify for Social Security, and I'm being called a "dude" by a complete stranger, Me, a dude?

Say "dude" to me and I think of Sean Penn playing Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High".

When my grandmother was 61 a "dude" was a city slicker vacationing on a working ranch in the West.

As for me being a "dude," I don't fit it by the 1880s definition as a man who is a stylish dresser, by the early 20th century definition of the proverbial city slicker on a ranch, by the 1960s definition of a surf bum, nor by the 1990s definition referencing a cool guy.

Today "dude" applies to either gender - which makes sense I guess given we now have his, hers and whatever public restrooms. It's a throwaway greeting. Even so, calling me a "dude" is fairly comical.

I'm sure the instructor wouldn't consider someone old enough to be her grandfather, knows the lyrics to almost every Frank Sinatra song, and who last played a video game in 1982 in an arcade near the entrance to Space Mountain at Disneyland to be a "dude."

Of course, the pronouns I use to greet strangers - or strike up conversations with them - may see silly to some. If the person looks to be over 20, they get a "sir" or a "madam." Occasionally, this draws a quizzical look from someone young enough to be my grandkid or a retort from someone who is older that believes calling them "madam" means they are old. Just for laughs, if I happen to again come across some woman I greeted with "madam" one more time who admonished me for doing so, I might try calling her "dude" to see if that makes her happier.

If you think about it there is no longer a universal way to employ a pronoun to greet a stranger, assuming there ever was.

A week doesn't go by that someone I don't know addresses me as "honey" or "sweetheart."

I don't view them as even mildly inappropriate as it is clear they're not terms of endearment given they are used to break the ice.

And they're 1,000 times nicer than someone uttering "hey" and then using the "A" word to get your attention. Unfortunately, it seems as if more political dialogue these days between strangers starts out that way. Given what typically follows it certainly sets the tone. But then again how serious would you take someone saying, "dude, you a Trump supporter?" or "dude, Hillary got robbed"?

I'm odd in one aspect as I may call others "madam" or "sir" but I don't expect anyone else to address me that way.

In fact, the times someone has - think a young clerk - when I'm clearly irritated by something I have to quickly check myself so I don't take the use of "sir" as being condescending.

That brings is to the debate that has never ended - at least for me.

Remember when "Ms." was introduced into the vernacular at the forefront on the assault on "sexist" pronouns such as chairman, fireman, and manhole? It was a time when the mayor of Sacramento actually issued a decree not to refer to manholes as such prompting snarky remarks about "personholes." While mailman, postman (except in basketball) and other pronouns such as policeman have gone the way of pay phones, manhole somehow has seemed to have survived.

"Ms.", of course, was the status equivalent of "Mr." given there were two choices for a woman - "Mrs." and "Miss" that reflected marital status or lack thereof.

The issue of what to use crops up today mostly when responding to non-spam emails that start out "Mr. Wyatt." If the name typed at the bottom is clearly male I respond with "Mr." or if it is female my reply starts with a "madam." That isn't really logical since "sir" and "madam" go together as does "Mr.", "Mrs.", "Ms.", and "Miss."

But then again, what is a clearly male or female name anymore? There was a city manager in Lincoln whose name was Gail Wingard who was male. It turned out his mother picked out the name hoping to have a daughter. But for more confusion it wasn't uncommon in the 1800s for a guy to be named "Gail" as well as a girl. But by the late 20th century guys were generally "Gale" and girls were "Gail" or "Gayle."

So how would I respond to an email from someone named "Gail" who called me "Mr. Wyatt"? Just using Gail sounds too personal but how does one not offend with a pronoun at the start of your reply? I'm tempted at times to use "It" but that would be as bad as using the wrong pronoun gender.

Then there is the issue by those that don't identify with whatever gender they were assigned in the DNA lottery and might be a tad touchy when it comes to pronouns.

Maybe in times like now just calling everybody "dude" is the safest bet.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.