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'Unfriend' goes into the books

Yesterday, the Oxford University Press announced its 2009 Word of the Year: "unfriend."


For the dwindling minority of Internet users who haven't at least looked at a social-networking site like Facebook, the verb refers to the act of removing somebody from your "friends list" -- the contingent of people whose news appears when you log into the site.

The OUP, publisher of the New Oxford American Dictionary, chose that verb for its clarity and relative novelty:

"It has both currency and potential longevity," notes Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford's U.S. dictionary program. "In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year. Most "un-" prefixed words are adjectives (unacceptable, unpleasant), and there are certainly some familiar "un-" verbs (uncap, unpack), but "unfriend" is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of "friend" that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!). Unfriend has real lex-appeal."

It beat out such other contenders as "hashtag," "netbook" "freemium," "birther" and "tramp stamp." As well it should -- now that the leading social network, Facebook, has seen its user base exceed 300 million people, friends lists have gotten out of hand and overwhelmed Facebookers have had to do some pruning.

(Unsurprising confession: I'm among them. Unsurprising outcome: One of the unfriended parties noticed the change almost immediately. Awk-ward.)

Unfriending isn't the only only remedy for an overloaded friends list, however. You can use Facebook's "Hide" option to block a particular friend's status updates from showing up in your News Feed. You can then adjust your privacy settings so this poor sap won't see any of your updates either, leaving only the faintest thread of e-friendship between you two.

But what's the word for all that? "Hiding" doesn't convey how you wall off the other person from your own updates. "Disappearing" the faux-friend? No, that has many shades of 1970s South American military dictatorships. There has to be a precise verb for this -- and if we can coin it here, maybe we can all take credit for inventing 2010's word of the year.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 17, 2009; 10:32 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
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Hiding someone's Facebook status, and hiding your status from them, should be called FaceMasking.

Posted by: Ghak | November 17, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

One quibble with OUP:

"Unfriend" is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of 'friend' that is really not used."

That's not true. "Friend" is absolutely used as a verb, the opposite of "unfriend." I probably say "friend me" more than I say "I unfriended so-and-so."

Posted by: MattRaymond | November 17, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Is it just me? I thought the term was defriend.

Posted by: stacyt161 | November 17, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

@ stacyt161: I thought the same thing, actually!

Posted by: sigmagrrl | November 17, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Notfriend works.

Posted by: therev1 | November 17, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The term is "defriend". And to defriend one on fb is akin to saying you never want to speak to them again - on fb or elsewhere for that matter.

Posted by: cafinch | November 17, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Agreed @stacy161 and sigmagirrl: It's "defriend."

Posted by: ChrisDC | November 17, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

'. . . "unfriend" is different from the norm. It assumes a verb sense of "friend" that is really not used . . .'

Perhaps they should have chosen "unbefriend" so as to refer to the verb "befriend", i.e., 'to become or act as a friend to' (per Merriam-Webster).

Posted by: Tyelctu | November 17, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Definitely 'defriend' in common parlance.

Posted by: NML_dc | November 17, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

We say "Unfriend" I've never heard the term "defriend."

Unfriending someone is the opposite of friending someone. Unfriend is to friend as Unbutton is to button, Undo is to do, Unload is to load, etc. One wouldn't debutton, dedo, deload, etc. We have enlisted serves people and unenlisted people we don't have deenlisted people.

I agree with Ghak - Hiding someone's Facebook status, and hiding your status from them, should be called FaceMasking.

Posted by: Morti_Mouse | November 18, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

FWIW, I've usually gone with "unfriend," and I couldn't find any use of "defriend" in my e-mail.

"FaceMasking" could work. But if you're going to lose 5 or 15 yards every time you do that, would it be simpler to de/un-friend the person instead?

- R

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | November 20, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

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