10 Vocab Words from ‘The Big Lebowski’

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By Susie Tae, California State University Northridge

Quote The Big Lebowski, and you’ll likely get a lot of laughs and knowing looks. But Lebowski isn't just a comedy about the misadventures of a lovable stoner—the movie uses sophisticated words and concepts for some intellectual humor. Use any of these 10 words in casual conversation, and you can hold your head up high.


Meaning “to urinate,” we first meet the Dude as thugs harass him and, well, “micturate” on his rug. In a case of mistaken identity, the Dude visits the other Lebowski to seek compensation. But what he gets is an unsympathetic Big Lebowski, who mocks him for his attire and attitude towards life. The offended Big Lebowski asks, “Every time a rug is micturated upon in this fair city, I have to compensate…?”


If you thought being a nihilist means passing out on floating pool lounges, read on. While there are several forms of nihilism, the most common, existential nihilism, argues that there is no intrinsic meaning, purpose or value in life. While German nihilists are behind much of the hijinks in the movie, their battle cry (“We believe in nossink!”) is contradicted in the end by their whining at the unfairness of no payout. Clearly not nihilists, this unfortunately makes losing a toe and an ear much harder to bear.


Shabbos (Yiddish), also known as Shabbat (Hebrew), is the Jewish day of rest. Shabbos begins just before sunset on Friday evening and ends Saturday evening, and can be honored by meditating on spiritual matters and spending time with family. Walter, who converted to Judaism, observes Shabbos by not working, not driving, not riding in a car, not handling money, not turning on an oven, and definitely by not bowling. Walter even doesn’t answer the phone on Shabbos, unless it’s an emergency—which it was, which was why Walter picked up the phone.


Adult films are not known for their complicated plots. So when Maude shows a scene where a cable repair man complains of difficulty working in his clothes, Maude comments, “You can imagine what happens next.” The Dude replies, “He fixes the cable?” and Maude asks him not to be fatuous, meaning “silly and pointless.” But of course, that’s why we love the Dude.


Meaning “a particular way of speaking,” parlance is used twice in reference to Bunny Lebowski, the much younger wife of the Big Lebowski. The first relates to her relationship with known pornographer Jackie Treehorn, who Bunny is said to be sleeping with. The second is in the Dude’s explanation of Bunny’s role in her kidnapping. As a "trophy wife" and needing money, the Dude tries to reason that Bunny faked her own kidnapping. That did not occur to the Big Lebowski.


One who believes that government reigns and use of force is necessary and good to ensure that power, the term fascist is now more often used as an insult. The Dude calls the police chief a fascist after the chief throws a mug at his head for back talk. Do I make myself clear? Or were you not listening?


Upset at being exploited, the Dude calls the Big Lebowski a human paraquat for stealing $1 million and pinning it on him. Paraquat, which is actually an herbicide that’s also poisonous to humans and animals, may be known by the Dude because of the Mexican marijuana fields sprayed by the U.S. government with paraquat during the 1970s. Ironically, plant material sprayed with the toxic paraquat is actually safe to smoke because of its burning. So no worries Dude.


In non-political correctness, the term "Chinaman" is used to describe various Asians throughout the movie. Early on, the Dude complains of the "Chinaman" who peed on his rug, the rug that really tied the room together. Walter, in his unfailing desire for what’s right, clarifies that Asian-American is the preferred nomenclature, meaning “term applied to someone or something within a system of naming.” The Big Lebowski also uses "Chinaman" for the soldier in Korea who shot him during the war. Clearly both Lebowskis could use some sensitivity training.


A pacifist is someone who believes that war and violence are unjustifiable. After having threatened a fellow bowler with a gun, Walter is scolded by the Dude for his behavior. The Dude informs Walter that the bowler was a pacifist, and has emotional problems. Walter shares that like the fellow bowler, he too was once a pacifist. But not in Vietnam, of course.


A term for a promiscuous woman, Walter uses it in reference to Bunny in a rant about how good men died face-down in the muck in Vietnam. Throughout much of the movie, Walter references Vietnam every chance he gets, literal connection or otherwise.

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