From your friendly linguist

I read today in a newpsaper article titled “Facebook tries to friend Japan” that 60% of U.S. Internet users have a Facebook account. The social network site’s rise to prominence has rapidly introduced the verb “to friend” into current English. Typically, we would use the word “befriend” to speak of making friends with someone, but in the case of Facebook, “to friend” has taken on a specialized meaning—to invite someone else to associate their site profile with yours. Just like the relationships themselves, these virtual associations sometimes need to be severed. Thus, we’ve also seen the rise of the word “unfriend.” Some have cried foul at this linguistic turn of events, thinking that “friend” has no place as a verb and that “unfriend” has no place at all. Never mind the fact that for centuries, English has been tossing words around among noundom, verbdom, and adjectivity with profligacy and ease.

In any case, it turns out that neither “friend” nor “unfriend,” as verbs meaning either to make a friend or to sever a friendship, is new to English. The use of “to friend” in this sense goes back to the 13th century! (The Old English was spelled differently, natch.) “Unfriend” as a noun meaning “enemy” also dates to the 13th century, while the verb form is documented from the 17th century. The OED gives this quote as an example: “I Hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Un-friended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us.” That sounds like the perfect thing to say next time one of your old high school friends is being an online idiot and you are considering cutting him off.
Afterword. Spell check does not recognize the following as valid words: Facebook, unfriend, noundom, verbdom, adjectivity, and natch. Well, pthththt to them.
Afterafterword. Spell check does not recognize the following as a valid word: Pthththt.

About Verla

Wordfreak. Retired private investigator and Spanish court interpreter. Erstwhile librarian. Texan by birth, cheesehead by upbringing, latina by soul, in New Mexico by choice. Lover of things purple. Passionate participant in the Librivox audiobook recording project. We record books that are in the public domain in the U.S. The recordings are then placed in the public domain themselves.
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3 Responses to From your friendly linguist

  1. Pingback: Let’s be frenemies | WordsWordsWords