My Little League coaches didn’t know what to do with me, a slightly effeminate boy completely unenthusiastic about balls hurled at my face. As I picked dandelions in the outfield, they’d shout at me from the dugout, “Hey, bud, look alive!”

Bud. A decade later, I still hate it. There’s no nickname more condescending. I shiver when someone on the street stops me to ask, “Hey, bud, which way to the subway?” Sure, they mean well. They don’t know it gives me traumatizing baseball flashbacks. Lots of popular male nicknames, from “bud” and “buddy” to “big guy,” “dude,” “chief” and “boss,” are loaded with all sorts of hidden meaning, reflecting an amalgam of regional politics, social class, race and ethnicity. All of them seem to reinforce some element of traditional masculinity.

“Through most of history, most of the writers were men, so they created much of the slang,” says etymologist Barry Popik, once called “the relentless genius of American etymology” by the Wall Street Journal. It left us with a cadre of nicknames that continue to change meanings throughout the years. Let’s dive in, my dudes.


It’s hard to track down these nicknames’ origins, says Popik, who uses a variety of research sources, including online dictionaries, slang dictionaries, Google Books and newspaper databases in his research. Fortunately, etymologist Evan Morris, who writes the blog The Word Detective, has done the hard work on “bud.” It’s the shortened version of “buddy,” which has roots in the American South. The first “buddy” appears in 1788, according to Oxford University Press.

“‘Buddy’ was originally found largely in African-American dialectical English at that time, but quickly spread into general colloquial use, and eventually also became a form of address used with a person whose name is not known (‘Hey, buddy, gimme a hand here’),” Morris wrote in 2007.

A second “buddy” theory posits that it came from “butty,” the Welsh slang term for “companion,” which itself is derived from the 18th-century slang “booty.” No, not like “booty had me like” — this booty came from the sharing of booty, like Jack Sparrow-type pirates plundering for gold together. How sweet!

Today, though, I mostly hear “bud” used to greet a little boy. So don’t talk down to me — treat me like a real man and call me “sis” instead.


This one’s easy. “Chief” derived from the Old French word “chef,” meaning the leader of a group. That’s where we get titles like fire chief, chief of police and editor-in-chief. When the the guy at the bodega greets you with “Hey, chief!” know it’s a sign of respect.

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