Mates versus Dudes

24 Jul 2003|Darrel Rhea

And on the lighter side of blogville…

My mate and I were discussing the meaning of the term “mate.”

Your interpretation of the previous sentence is likely to vary greatly depending on your cultural context. In San Francisco, a mate could be a lot of different things. Justin Barrie, a good friend and brilliant Design Researcher from Down Under clued me into the subtle meanings of “mate” in his neighborhood. Important information for pub survival…

“Understanding the use of the word mate in Australia is the key to understanding our culture. It has everything – melancholy, egalitarianism and friendship, rolled up with a dry wit, biting sarcasm and ruthless power struggles. I’ll explain…

Mate means, you are my best friend in the whole world and I would do anything for you: …”He’s a really good mate.”

Mate means, I’m about to absolutely knock you’re block off you turkey: …”Is that right mate.”

Mate means, give it a rest what you just said is unacceptable: …”Come on mate.”

Mate means, yeah, right – you have no idea what you are talking about: …”Maaate.”

Mate means, I think we just signed a big contract that we had no right to win: …”Maaate.”

And then there is the most cutting, most biting derivation of mate, “matey.” Matey is used to put someone in their place. Matey is a term of affection from father to son, but if a peer or stranger says it to you it is a massive insult. It is them trying to assert a dominant position “I am superior to you.” When matey is used it is gloves-off time…

The beauty of mate is that it is used with complete strangers and with people you’ve known forever — you never know its intended use unless you have a referencing system with the person who said it. This situation is exactly what has lead to so many tourists ending up with black eyes in Australian pubs:

Local: “Hey mate” translation “Listen here you outsider you are being too noisy for my liking. I don’t like your accent and I particularly don’t like that loud shirt you are wearing. If you don’t dissolve into mid air immediately I might have to smash my glass over your head, kick you with my Blunnies (shoes) as you fall to the ground and then get me and MY mates to tie you to my ute.”

Tourist: “Alright mate – hey everyone, I’m his mate”

“It’s kind of like the Eskimos and snow thing.” [Thanks, Justin, er, mate.] [Justin’s wife Ele just added that this interpretation is gender-specific and culturally specific to the white middle class. She can use ‘matey’ with a close female friend with no condescension or animosity. “BUT, our 6 year old daughter asked me the other day not to call her ‘mate’, however Justin is allowed to! There’s something about the mother/daughter dynamic that she think is unmate-like!”

What stuck me about this was how “Mate” has many of the identical meanings of the California version of “Dude.” I’m spending the week in Santa Barbara at the beach, immersed in the surf culture. The elasticity of the term is amazing, and depends entirely on context.

“Duuuude!”…….can meaning virtually anything given some context: I agree; I disagree; surprise; you’re full of it; you’re hot; she’s hot; I’m cool; etc.
“He’s such a duuude”…. what a &*%)(@!
“These are my dudes”….buddies
“Hey you duuudes”….. hey you jerks
“He’s a major dude”….. Person of accomplishment or importance
“Hey lil’dude”….. kind of like matey

I wonder if we will evolve (devolve?) into a language with fewer words with multiple meanings? Duuude!

prev next