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Dude -- you're cramping my style!

What does it mean?

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Dude — you're cramping my style!

means that "Dude" is behaving in such a way as to inhibit whatever behavior the speaker is engaging in at the moment — whether that be trying to have a conversation, playing a game, trying to get romantic with a woman, whatever. Say I was in a bar chatting up some hottie and you walked over and started trying to sell me insurance, I might tell you you were cramping my style.

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  • I've always wondered about this expression: do you happen to know what the word style means here, which sense of the word is involved here? Is it a metaphor, as in a dancer with restricted movement (I can imagine a dancer's having a style)? I'd like to know how style came to be used in the sense of range of action — if this is even known at all, that is. I read that this expression dates back to WWI. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 31 '11 at 3:31
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    @Cerberus - I think in this case it means the way you do something. 2. a particular, distinctive, or characteristic mode of action or manner of acting: They do these things in a grand style. – gpr Jan 31 '11 at 4:35
  • @gpr: Hmm possibly; that was what I meant by the dancer. But I've heard it used in situations where you wouldn't normally use the word style, except in this expression. Something like I am going to dump her; she is cramping my style with her stalker attitude. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 31 '11 at 4:52
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    In this sense 'style' means 'how cool I am' or 'how cool I am acting'. 'Cramping my style' means 'You're stopping me being cool'. – user3444 Jan 31 '11 at 10:05
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    @Cerberus: One's 'style' is the way one presents oneself to the world: it covers everything from clothing to haircut to mannerisms, even to actual interpersonal actions and activities. – Robusto Jan 31 '11 at 10:39
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I think this could apply to any intrusive behaviour by another that hinders my natural and usual way of doing things, my lifestyle, the plans I had that I can no longer execute easily.

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If someone or something cramps your style, they prevent you from behaving freely in the way that you want. Example: Ugh, having a test on Monday is really cramping my style. I just want to party all weekend!

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    You need to reference where you got this definition from, as right now you are plagiarizing. – Laurel May 16 at 20:33
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Although this question borders on general reference, it is perhaps worth noting that the cramp of "Dude, you're cramping my style" is not particularly closely related to the cramp of (for example) "his shoulder cramped while he was sitting in the dugout during the seventh inning." At any rate, that seems to be the view of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2010), which covers the meanings of cramp1 and cramp2 as separate entries:

cramp1 n. 1. An involuntary, spasmodic muscle contraction causing severe pain. 2. A temporary partial paralysis of habitually or excessively used muscles. ... v. cramped, cramping, cramps tr. To affect with as if with a cramp. —intr. To suffer from or experience cramps. {Middle English crampe < Old French, of Germanic origin.}

cramp2 1. a frame with an adjustable part to hold pieces together; a clamp. 2. A cramp iron. 3. A compressing or restraining force, influence, or thing. 4. A confined position or part. tr.v. cramped, cramping, cramps 1. To hold together with a cramp. 2. To shut in so closely as to at to restrict the physical freedom of: [example omitted]. ... —idiom: cramp (one's) style To restrict or prevent from free action or expresion. {Middle English crampe, probably < Middle Dutch, hook, cramp, Adj., probably akin to Icelandic krappr, contrained, tight, and Old High German cranf, squeezed.}

So "you're cramping my style" doesn't mean to suggest "you're causing my style to suffer involuntary spasms or contractions" but rather "you're causing my style to be restricted, confined, or limited."

Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, second edition (2013) asserts that the idiomatic use of "cramp [one's] style" is not much more than 100 years old:

cramp someone's style Restrict or prevent someone from free action or expression, as in It really cramps my style when Mom hovers around me while I'm making dinner. Although in 1819 Charles Lamb complained that using different inks cramped his style of writing, the present sense of this colloquial term dates only from the early 1900s.

The earliest match I could find for this idiom in the Elephind newspaper database, however, comes from "Objectors to Ready-Made Clothing," an advertisement for Gusky's Department Store, in the Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania] Dispatch (April 21, 1889):

The Dude: Afraid They Would Cramp His Style, Spoil His Shape and Destroy His Individuality.

The expression also pops up in Australia at a fairly early date. From W.J. Ford, "Cricket 'Specials': Famous Present Day Cricketers," in the [Adelaide, South Australia] Chronicle (December 28, 1901):

Every one likes Ranjy. There was a notion in the air when he first began to startle the world that very big scores were not for him, as be did not possess the necessary stamina. Those ideas have vanished into thin air, for Ranjy is as good a stayer as anyone, and what is more, he can maintain his superiority over most men on bad wickets as well as good. His only trouble is cold, which naturally cramps his style and spoils his pleasure; indeed, his favorite silk shirt seems but a sorry defence against the Arctic weather with which we are often blessed in May, and even in June.

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