'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.
November 17, 2009; 10:32 AM ET
Categories: Digital culture
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