Is it just me or has the word Friend lost a little of its meaning with modernity? We call the hundreds of contacts on Facebook “friends”, even though half of them we don’t know in person or even what their favorite color is. We say goodbye to the Uber’s driver with a “bye my friend” after having a nice chat on the way home. What does it mean to call someone your friend

Today I want to take a quick tour through different periods to know how this word has been used and what its origin was, thus to discover if we are really honoring its meaning. 

Dictionary Definition

Friend: Noun. A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Friend: Noun. A person who is not an enemy or opponent; an ally. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Friend: Verb. [Informal] Add (someone) to a list of friends or contacts on a social networking website. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Considering that, according to the Collins English dictionary, Friend is one of the 4,000 most commonly used words in our language, I bet you are pretty sure on how to use it.

But in case, I will leave you some good examples. Seize it, my friend!

“When faced with, for example, a situation where it’s tempting to lie to cover for a friend, it can seem as though friendship and morality are on a collision course.”

From KTSA website Article: What Makes A Good Friend? 2019

If your mind runs across an old friend today, pick up the phone and do the old-fashioned thing, call and say, hello, I was just thinking about you.”

From Tribune 242 website Article: Diane Phillips: A Sunday Conversation With A Friend. 2019

When you click a link, like a page, or friend another person, you’re giving away valuable information.”

From Kim Komando website Article: Is that Facebook friend request legit? Here’s how to find out. 2019

A free and trustworthy ally

We began our journey in the 12th century, just before the word changed as we know it today. In middle English the word was frend and meant “one attached to another by feelings of affection and trust”. Very similar to what we understand today, right? But a couple of centuries earlier the meaning was a little broader.

In Old English the word was frēond, and it meant “loved person” and “free person”, because it came from the verb Freon, which meant “to love” and “to set free”. Then, for the old English speakers a friend was a person to whom you showed love without the need of any family or couple bond, a free love. 

A Literal Interpretation

This beautiful meaning is the result of the oldest root of the word friend: *priy-ont-, from the Proto Indo European, which meant “beloved, free, not in bondage”, but for them it was not a metaphor, but rather a literal meaning.

The clans of the most archaic societies were made up of relatives (people who shared blood ties), allies of neighboring clans and slaves brought from enemy clans, and to differentiate between them, was called *priy-ont– or *priyHós to those people who even without being relatives were still allies within the clan, free people and who could be trusted. 

One thing is clear to me after this trip: We are the first generation to take the word “friend” lightly. But maybe it’s not a bad sign, hopefully we are realizing that most people in the world are kind and trustworthy people, and that we are stronger as we have more friends!

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