There are so many casual ways to refer to your friends in English, with varying degrees of friendship implied. They differ based on whether you’re in North American, the UK, or Australia, and sometimes they’re gendered too. There are some shades of meaning in the context too, so let’s dig a bit deeper.
How to informally address someone in English
Using ‘mate’ in English
This is a very UK and Australia term for a friend. It’s mainly used among men, but sometimes it crosses over in mixed groups. You don’t have to be best friends with someone to use this, in fact I’d say with Australian folks it is even more a general term of address. If you’re sitting in the pub with someone for more than an hour, you’re safe to call them mate.
‘Matey’, however, is not the same, and is only for pirates in bad pirate movies. There is also the threatening use of ‘Mate’. This is when things have gone a bit wrong, maybe later on at the same pub, and someone you don’t know very well is very pissed off with you, and is suggesting ‘you might want to go now, mate’. For reference, see any British film directed by Guy Ritchie.
When should you use ‘dude’
Originating with surfer culture in California, ‘Dude’ is very very informal North American English, and nominally applies to men, but can be used to refer to anyone, really. It used to mean the speaker was a bit of a slacker, a young person without a job or one they didn’t take very seriously, and spent a lot of time sitting on their couch laughing at the television. Your best popular reference point here would be ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ from 1989. Just saying the word ‘Dude’ with an unimpressed look can speak volumes: ‘I can’t believe you just said/did that’, ‘Seriously?’, or even ‘There’s no way I would ever do that.’. It’s now used by pretty much anyone in a casual situation to signal that they are saying something like: ‘As a friend, I am telling you this is not a good idea.’. It can also have a negative meaning in certain contexts, almost like you’re making fun of a person in an insulting way: ‘Dude, I am not interested in you’.
This one is a little more complicated. It is a very North American term, sort of like ‘Dude’. Where ‘Dude’ is kind of friendly, goofy thing, ‘Bro’ has a much more macho context attached. Think sporty guys in a herd, shouting and watching sports – those are, on average, Bros. It is technically a shortened form of ‘Brother’, but where calling someone ‘Brother’ is really reserved for people of colour in North America, and to a lesser extent the same way you would use ‘Comrade’. So they are definitely not interchangeable. ‘Bro’ is definitely a loaded term, and I would avoid using it first – lots of people don’t take it as a compliment. In fact, the term ‘dudebro’, is literally a term for a not-very-smart young man who doesn’t think about how his actions affect anyone else, likes to smack his friends on the back painfully hard to show he’s a man, talks unnecessarily loudly, and takes pride in being a bit of a jerk. At the same time, much like ‘Dude’, people often use the term ironically as well, sometimes making fun of each other when they’ve done something stereotypically ‘manly’, like: ‘You going snowboarding this weekend, bro?’, ‘Fire up the grill, bro!’. It can be used affectionately, but this is a bit tough to get right.
I honestly can’t think of as many casual names women call each other. I once worked in an office that was 80% women, and many emails involved calling each other hun, short for ‘honey’, which we would not have said. ‘Could you send me that status report when you get a chance hun x’ would totally be a normal thing to say, the ‘x’ denoting kisses and is a common thing to end emails with in the UK when you’re speaking to colleagues you work with a lot – though generally only to other women. It’s supremely embarrassing when you then sign an email to your accountant with ‘xx’, however.
Do you prefer ‘darling’ or ‘girl’?
Some North Americans would use this, but probably older women, whereas in the UK it was all ages. ‘Darling’ is a bit over the top, but some people seem to like using it. ‘Hey girl’ is a common North American thing to say, or even ‘Hey girlfriend’ and it’s meant in a kind and familiar way. You only say it to good friends or people you genuinely get along with. I often text and email my friends with ‘Hey lovely’ and I know a few other people do it as well, but I have no idea where I got it from!
So in your next Lingoda lesson, maybe don’t call your teacher Dude unless you’ve been in a few of their lessons. Then you can definitely say: ‘Thanks Dude!’
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