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What Does "Unfriend" Mean?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated May 23, 2024
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Language purists often deplore the way language seems to be devolving. They point to the gleeful habit of the hoi polloi to take a perfectly serviceable noun and misuse it as a verb. Telling gossip becomes gossiping, e-mail is delivered by e-mailing, and friends are obtained by friending, at least on Facebook. As in real life, making too many friends too fast can easily become overwhelming, but fear not — a friend that is easily made can become an unfriend just as easily.

As most new Facebookers know, almost immediately upon setting up an account, it will be deluged with requests from other Facebookers who want to be friended. Accepting the request, or friending, meanings they have access to that particular inner sanctum. They can send private messages, see photos, and otherwise avail themselves of information. New Facebookers are a lot like nervous teens; relieved that anyone wants to be friends, they initially accept all takers, including those with completely unfamiliar names.

It doesn’t take long to realize the onslaught of new friends could include the stalker from a previous job, the obsessed kid who always had a booger in his nose in junior high, and that queen bee who told the entire school about a particularly embarrassing secret. There are likely to be several or several hundred highly determined retailers trying to sell everything from Viagra to cheap land in Florida, a "friend" who responds to each and every wall post with a perky remark, and several others who invited themselves to the party. The solution is simple.

It’s easy to unfriend an unwanted friend. The best part is that there’s no need to notify this annoying creature that the friendship has been terminated. News feeds won’t be sent, so they can no longer respond. Their messages will be blocked, although they won’t know it. Eventually, they will simply fade away.

Of course, the term unfriend is enough to annoy any language purist. When asked, they will quickly point out that friend is not a verb, and the prefix un, which means "not," cannot reasonably be attached to it. It should be pointed out, though, that all languages are sprawling, uncontrollable things that evolve for reasons of their own, and not even the best linguist can make them behave.

This is not an argument language purists like to hear. With the proliferation of social media, however, they may have no choice but to join the crowd. After all, they are welcome to unfriend as many Facebookers who misuse the language as they like.

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Discussion Comments

By anon981928 — On Dec 15, 2014

I suppose a more correct version of "friend" as a verb would be "befriend", but who wants or needs to be that correct when you're talking about Facebook? I try to use the "unfriend" button sparingly, but there are times when simply blocking the other person from receiving most messages is not enough. I usually unfriend someone when they post antagonistic messages on *my* wall, especially political rhetoric.

I'm not saying that people should automatically unfriend people who don't agree with their political leanings or religious affiliation or whatever, but I'm saying that unfriending someone who makes a habit of creating unnecessary conflict on your own page is probably not a true friend. Some people seem to accept a lot more abuse from Facebook "friends" than they ever would from real life friends and family.

By anon282808 — On Jul 31, 2012

Someone unfriended me on Facebook yesterday. I don't know who or why, but it has upset me a lot as I do not know who did this to me. --Irene

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