Oxford W.O.T.Y. 2009: unfriend

« previous post | next post »

We've been remiss in not linking to the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2009 Word of the Year, which Rebecca Ford announced on the OUP Blog a couple of days ago.

The modern (non-obsolete) positive verb to friend isn't in the current NOAD yet, or for that matter in the OED,  so I hope that it gets in as part of the package deal.


  1. James Kabala said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 4:09 pm

    I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who says "defriend":


  2. Megan Kennedy said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

    I too am curious about the unfriend/defriend issue. Does usage vary by social networking site, or is there another explanation? I'm pretty sure my LiveJournal friends mainly use "defriend."

  3. Mr Punch said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

    "Defriend" seems to me preferable because it's more neutral than "unfriend," with its apparent relationship to "unfriendly."

  4. Simon Cauchi said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

    Lexicographers who use words like "lexappeal" and "lexy" ought to be shot — or rather ostracized, or pilloried, or whatever the modern term is in the virtual world of electronic communication.

    At any rate, that's my mood of the moment.

  5. John Lawler said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 7:05 pm

    >Lexicographers who use words like "lexappeal" and "lexy"

    … should obviously be called lexworkers.

  6. Lazar said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

    Unfriending someone is so delightfully Stalinesque.

  7. Brett said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 9:40 pm

    My reaction to the work is much like Lazar's. I definitely avoid it because it sounds like newspeak.

  8. pavel said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 9:51 pm

    I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who says "defriend"

    That's interesting. To me, "unfriend" and "defriend" have different meanings. To "unfriend" someone is to cease to be their friend, but to "defriend" someone is to cause someone to no longer have friends, so I personally would use "unfriend" to describe what you do on Facebook when you remove someone from your Friends list. (Of course, to the extent that either derivation is possible, it has a comical ring to it.) Does anyone else have the same intuitions?

  9. hsknotes said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

    yes pavel. I think to people familiar with the usage (about 6 years now), that kind of reading may seem fairly obvious. the pattern is there in much tech usage. For example, you don't "de-click" , you unclick, you don't "de-check", you "uncheck".

  10. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 12:53 am

    Both unfriend and defriend began popping up on LiveJournal (in what appears to be free variation) more than 8 years ago. See my latest Word Routes column.

  11. Graeme said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 12:54 am

    If we befriend (in the sense of actively embrace) then we must unbefriend.

  12. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 5:15 am

    I've never understood WOTY methodologies (I realise that term may be generous to WOTY judges). How can "paywall" and "freemium" be considered for the same year? Sure, freemium was actually coined a while back, but it's only really been used a lot in the media recently. Paywall has been in common use for ages – the NYT has already put up and taken down its paywall!

  13. Alan said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 7:00 am

    The unfriend/defriend controversy reminds me somewhat of the problem of boned/deboned and unboned meat, or my own longtime confusion over flammable/inflammable — it wasn't until adolescence that I discovered nonflammable.

  14. mollymooly said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 10:53 am

    @Ginger Yellow: I'm guessing the "other contenders" list was generated after the winner had already been chosen, purely for the benefit of journalists in search of copy. And then, "paywall" was eligible because it had been overlooked in previous years. Like Al Pacino getting an Oscar for "Scent of a Woman".

  15. Boris said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

    @hsknotes, what does unclick mean?

    I find a parallel to unqualified vs disqualified (though not dequalified), so I would say defriend is logical as unfriend would mean the object was never your friend in the first place. Then again, I do say uncheck.

  16. mollymooly said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

    Ammon Shea of OUP has a post about the process that led to "unfriend" being chosen as WOTY 2009

  17. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

    Not sure what hsknotes intended by unclick, but I've certainly used it in the context of wanting to unclick on some NSFW link I've foolishly followed.

  18. Tim Silverman said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

    @Boris: "disqualified" is the past participle of the verb "disqualify". But "unqualified" is the negation of the already-existing participle "qualified". To be analogous to "unfriend" vs. "defriend", there would have to be an adjective or participle "friend". But there isn't, there's only the verb (and the noun, of course). The analogue of "unqualified" would be "unfriended".

    (Of course, things would be different if there was a verb "fren" = "befriend". The there would be a participle "frenned", and a negation "unfrenned". :-))

  19. Mary Kuhner said,

    November 19, 2009 @ 3:07 am

    "Friend" has been a verb for a while: Houseman has "And I will friend you, if I may / In the dark and cloudy day" in 1896.

  20. Alen Mathewson said,

    December 17, 2009 @ 5:20 am

    This is catching. This morning's Dutch newspaper, de Volkskrant reports that 'ontvvrienden' has been chose in a poll by publisher Van Dale. It is described as meant the dumping of virual friends : "Ontvrienden betekent virtuele vrienden dumpen door deze te schrappen uit vriendenlijstjes op vriendenwebsites."

RSS feed for comments on this post