On Friendship: The Word Enemy

We have looked at the word ‘friend’, what it means, and where it comes from, but sometimes it helps to understand a word or idea by looking at and understanding its opposite. So what is the opposite of a friend?

An enemy.

What does the word enemy mean? Here is the first definition point from dictionary.com.

a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent.


Something I noticed while reading this definition is how it’s packed with action. ‘Fosters harmful designs’, ‘feels hatred for’, ‘engages in antagonistic activities’. So at least when it comes to a personal enemy, it’s not someone who simply feels indifferent towards us or someone who thinks or believes differently. There must be some kind of hurtful action involved, even if it’s just mentally planning harm that may never come to fruition.

dictionary.com also takes it to the impersonal level where it defines a nation, or peoples who are hostile against one another as enemies.

So why dig into this?

I think it’s just as important to understand what a true enemy is as to understand true friendship, why we define relationships with these words, as well as how enemies have been viewed throughout history. As we have talked about before, languages change. Dose an enemy still mean what it did one hundred years ago? How about a thousand?

Latin root: in (meaning ‘not’) + amicus (friend) = inimicus, according to WordSence.com

So the Latin root word for enemy literally translates to not friend. The word enemy is also related to Old and Middle English words as well as Old French words as well. It is also related to the word ‘fiend‘ which dictionary.com defines as literally “Satan; the Devil, and a diabolically cruel or wicked person.

I think it’s safe to conclude that the definition of ‘enemy’ has stayed relatively constant thought the last several thousand years. Unlike the word ‘friend’ I’m not seeing evidence of its definition expanding. It may actually be shrinking or becoming more defined as our modern understanding of different cultures and people changes. As our towns, cities, countries and continents become more diverse we are being forced into closer proximity with people who are vastly different from us, and finding them not nearly as hostile as we used to. Different doesn’t automatically = potential enemy anymore. Though we still view strangers with a healthy dose of caution, I think the general view is shifting towards viewing newcomers as potential friends first, or at least indifferently.

So, the grey middle between enemy and friend is widening, even as friend welcomes in a wider definition. But there is one question itching the back of my mind. Can a true enemy, someone who is actively pursuing harm to someone else, ever be reconciled to that individual and achieve true friendship?

The shift from an enemy to a friend has always been a rare occurrence though history. Does it still happen in our modern world as relationships grow and morph to include online spaces and as in-person interactions decrease? Have YOU ever experienced this? If so I would LOVE to hear from you.

Have you ever considered yourself someone’s enemy? Is it different to BE an enemy than it is to HAVE an enemy? What do You think?

Copyright ©2023 Mary Grace van der Kroef

Previous Post – On Friendship: My First Friend

Previous Post – On Friendship: What is it?

Previous Post – On Friendship: The Word Friend

Previous Post – On Friendship: Introduction

Forthcoming Post – On Friendship: Receiving and Giving Forgiveness

Forthcoming Post – On Friendship: In Person

Forthcoming Post – On Friendship: Virtual Friendship

Forthcoming Post – On Friendship: Friend Doesn’t Mean Project

websites referenced in this post


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