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defriend also de-friend

verb [transitive]

to remove someone from your list of friends on a social networking website

defriending

noun [uncountable]

'As for Jon, the next request he sends will not only get an "ignore," but a note explaining exactly why he's been defriended.'

Albany Times Union 8th May 2009

'Defriending is easier if the person has more than 100 friends. They'll probably never notice …'

WCNC 29th April 2009

According to research carried out by the Texas-based Global Language Monitor, an association that tracks and analyses trends in language usage, English is about to acquire its one millionth word. At the alleged current pace of a new word being created every 98 minutes, English crosses the million word mark on 10th June 2009.

there are many and varied reasons for deciding who should be defriended, from someone whose irritating comments you're fed up with, through to the person that stole your boyfriend

Fun and interesting though this claim may be, many language professionals are rather sceptical about it. Given the fundamentally dynamic nature of English or indeed any language, it seems unlikely that there can ever be a definitive method for measuring the 'number' of words within it, and the decision about what should (or shouldn't) be counted as a word is essentially a subjective one. What's perhaps more interesting in all this, is speculation about what, in 2009, this purported 'millionth' word might be … And among the main candidates, familiar to English-speaking social networking aficionados across the globe, is the new transitive verb defriend.

In the world of social networking sites like Facebook, a friend is someone who you declare some kind of connection with by allowing them to link to your profile. Social networkers then have 'friends lists', a group of people with whom they have some kind of virtual (and often real) association or friendship. To defriend someone then, is to cross them off the list, denying them access to your profile and throwing them out of your virtual friendship box. This well-established practice has also spawned a related activity noun defriending. The verb is often used in the passive, and predictably there are many and varied reasons for deciding who should be defriended, from someone whose irritating comments you're fed up with, through to the person that stole your boyfriend.

Background – defriend

The verb defriend has been around for about 4 or 5 years, and along with examples such as poke and pimp is another lexical by-product of the growth in popularity of social networking. The word is of course formed by combining friend with the prefix de-, conventionally used with both verbs and nouns to denote the idea of reversal or removal, e.g. decaffeinate, debug, deactivate, etc.

Defriend was coined as the obvious antonym of friend, which in social networking usage has undergone conversion from noun to (transitive) verb. To friend someone then, is to allow that person access to your profile by admitting them to your 'friends list'. A related activity noun friending is also regularly used. This new verbal use of friend stands in contrast to befriend, the verb conventionally used to refer to the activity of making friends with people in the real world.

The new status of friend as a verb has licenced other kinds of prefixation, such as unfriend, used as a synonym of defriend (un- = 'opposite', compare untie, unhappy etc), misfriend, which describes the activity of mistakenly adding someone to your friends list (mis- = 'wrongly', compare miscalculate, misjudge etc), and refriend, which is putting someone you'd previously defriended back on your list (re- = 'again', compare recalculate, resend, etc).

Similar word formation processes have transpired in the world of social networking service Twitter, where users in regular communication with others are said to follow them, or correspondingly defollow them if they are no longer interested in knowing 'what they are doing'.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 27th May 2009.

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