Not all that long ago the hot news story among fans of the dictionary (an admittedly small crowd) was that “unfriend” was the newest word to make its way into the English language. Thanks to Facebook, the word “friend” is now a verb and “unfriend” is part of many people’s vocabularies.
But is this a good advancement in language? Does it have unintended consequences?
At least one of my friends (the real kind, not the Facebook kind) wants to launch a verbal rebellion and refuses to use “friend” as a verb. When I remarked that he and I could become “friends” on Facebook, he informed me he refuses to adopt that terminology. He says he “connects” with people through Facebook and other social networking sites. But he wants to protect the word “friend” from extinction.
He told me, “I think it’s a bastardization of the word “friend” to use it to describe what people do on Facebook.” I’ve decided to join him in his verbal rebellion.
C.S. Lewis warned that words can die. The process begins when people use a word to mean something new, perhaps something that already has a word for it. In his essay, “The Death of Words” he illustrated his point with the word “gentleman.” The word once meant someone who owned land. Over time, however, it lost that meaning and simply meant anyone of the masculine gender. But we already had a word for that – “man.” Thus, “gentleman” totally lost its original meaning and now means hardly anything at all – certainly not anything distinct or more precise than “man.”
He then went on to talk of how the term “Christian” may be dying through a similar process.
Ultimately, he warned, “…when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say.”
You may think I’m overreacting and that “friending” people on Facebook is a harmless act. My fear is that we may demean true friendship and fail to extend the effort needed to develop those valuable relationships. That takes far more than a few mouse clicks.