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January 30, 2009

Facebook Linguistics: Changing the Definition of Friend / Unfriend

add-to-friends-1.gifFacebook may be responsible for redefining the word friend and may also be responsible for introducing two words to the world: unfriend and defriend - both verbs. It may also be responsible for turning the word "friend" itself into a verb, as in, when somebody likes you, they friend you on Facebook. You can now get friended by somebody else, and we all know what that means.

In our lives, we seem to have real friends and Facebook friends. A quick scan of your friend list on Facebook will bring up not a few questionable faces - random people from your middle school, people you met once at a party, customers, and a few people you've never even seen before, or at least can't remember - but now, via your status updates and postings, all your friends can get a glimpse of how you're feeling at any given moment while also perusing family snapshots.

Those of us who like Facebook can find that it offers an eerie alternative universe for real friendships. It's not uncommon to spend a few hours with a real friend, go home, and post a comment on the experience to the same friend (and, given the way Facebook works, everyone else you've friended over the years).

However, Facebook has a slightly darker side as well. The urban dictionary defines unfriending thus:

The opposite of befriending someone. When you unfriend someone you don't necessarily become their enemy per say, but you are just no longer their friend, sorta like just distancing yourself from them until you befriend them again.

Some people may unfriend you simply because they already have too many friends and can't handle more.

Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice urges you to unfriend (eg Sacrifice) ten friends on Facebook and get a Whopper in return, but be warned that those who have been unfriended take notice of it, which can be awkward, that is, if you ever happen to meet them in the real world.

One writer says that the word unfriend may actually be better as a noun than a verb - you can be an unfriend with most anybody, including former friends. Often, there's nothing personal in being an unfriend with somebody you've unfriended - you don't necessarily move from being friends to enemies.

That works for me. I care about my unfriends...but not that much.

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Posted by William Lozito at January 30, 2009 8:07 AM
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1 Comment

Great analaysis of the Facebook gestalt. I have a policy of allowing only people I actually know to friend me. Who needs a bunch of strangers reading about your life? Thanks for the shutout. Interesting stuff.

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