What does the word ‘friend’ mean?
Language changes with time, ideas as well, and what we once thought of as a friend has also changed. When I looked up the word ‘friend’ and its definitions, I found something that highlights this fact.
The 6th example of the word ‘friend’ as found at dictionary.com
6. a person associated with another as a contact on a social media website: We’ve never met, but we’re Facebook friends.
I shouldn’t really have been surprised by the inclusion of this new definition of a friend, but I was. To friend, someone is also defined on the same page. So it seems it’s official, our whole modern concept of friendship has shifted. My generation was the first to think of people we’d never met in person as ‘friends’, and as someone who lived in a small community as a child and teen, it opened up my world in a huge way. I’ll talk about this more in a future post. The point is, this shift had been coming for a long time and it is here to stay.
A more traditional view of the word is still relevant.
- a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
Whether in person or virtually, this definition covers the surface meaning of ‘friend’. For you to be my friend I have to think well of you in some way, I have to care about you on some level. If there is no care, there is no friendship. So the word ‘friend’ is tied to human emotions, and not just physical proximity.
There are so many words associated with a friend, like acquaintance, buddy, partner, pal, mate, familiar, comrade, associate, and colleague. Each of these words adds a new layer to a relationship. Friend left alone, has become quite a veg term in modern English and part of me mourns this. But another part acknowledges the need for a wide term. I have personally experienced and held affection for people I’ve never met, and will never meet in person. They are in fact, my friends. But I also find the limits of the English language frustrating as I long for a friendship that sinks deeper, with no one word to describe what I feel we lack.
In the book Ann of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery used the term ‘bosom friend’. I always loved that term, picturing someone I would be unafraid of embracing and holding close to my heart. It is this that I feel has vanished from modern culture. As we can see, a friend has become a term we use to describe people of little if almost no interaction, yet we still hold threads of affection for these people or we wouldn’t care to scroll through highlights of their lives on social media.
The origins of the word ‘friend’ are fascinating and I encourage you to read this short post on the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language on its root words and the Old English verb frēon, “to love, like, honor, set free (from slavery or confinement).” Who would have thought such an everyday word could be so deep?
These rich roots are something I wish humans were better at remembering as we wonder about the paths of changing communication. What do you think?
I hope this short look at what the word ‘friend’ means and how it has changed over time has been enlightening. It is my hope that by trying to understand this word, it will help each of us find that bosom friendship many of us seek but find elusive. Words are important and their meanings are important, for they represent deep emotions and ideas.
Copyright ©2023 Mary Grace van der Kroef
Previous Post – On Friendship: Introduction
Forthcoming Post – On Friendship: The Word Enemy
Forthcoming Post – On Friendship: What is it?
Forthcoming Post – On Friendship: My First Friend
Websites referenced in this post:
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
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