‘Friend’ has lost original meaning

February 3, 2013 — by Michelle Leung

The word “friend” has been around since its Old English origins centuries ago. Its ancestors in Old Saxon, Old Norse, Gothic and Old High German have been around even longer.

The word “friend” has been around since its Old English origins centuries ago. Its ancestors in Old Saxon, Old Norse, Gothic and Old High German have been around even longer.

Throughout most of the word’s long history, its meaning has remained consistent. According to Webster’s dictionary, “friend” rightfully refers to a favored companion.

It is disappointing that after centuries of use, “friend” is beginning to lose its original meaning.

Before the Industrial Revolution, it was only possible to communicate with friends through face-to-face encounters or by mail. Friendships were generally fewer but stronger, and the word “friend” had more meaning. A true friend was often associated with qualities of honesty, loyalty and trust. Friends shared experiences and supported each other through challenges. Forming a friendship did not simply refer to clicking on an “accept” button.

In recent times, countless technological advancements and less time to spend on socializing have made it unnecessary and inconvenient to talk to people in person or to write letters. The Internet allows practically anyone to correspond with strangers halfway around the world in a matter of seconds.

On websites such as Facebook, people can have thousands of friends. Labelling anyone you associate with on Facebook a “friend” detracts from its meaning, whether or not you are truly referring to the actual definition of the word.

According to Robert Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” the time spent developing deep “friendships” with others fell from 85 minutes a day in 1965 to 57 minutes a day in 1995. In fact, Putnam also explained that the two activities that underwent the largest drop in amount of time spent were religious worship and hanging out with friends.

Many people today call any vague acquaintance a “friend.” A “friend” could be someone met only once on the street. But the word itself no longer reflects the loyalty and trust it once represented. According to Putnam, 77 percent of the people in a study agreed that America was worse off because of the decrease in close relations with neighbors.

The word “friend” has a long, prestigious history. Its meaning should have more meaning than that of a mere acquaintance or, even worse, a Facebook “friend.”

18 views this week