Thursday, November 14, 2013

Language of Confusion: The Friend-Ship

Man, I cannot wait for the holidays, because I sure don’t feel like doing anything. At all. Anyway, let’s talk about the word friend or whatever.

Friend comes from the Old English word freond, which I think is much cooler. It has the same meaning as friend, but it also happens to be the present participle of the word freogan, which means to love or to favor. It can be traced to the Proto Germanic frijojanan, to love, but that’s as far back as that particular word goes. Also, I absolutely love that the Online Etymology Dictionary lists the creation of friend as a verb to Facebook in 2005.

But that’s not the end of the story. That Old English freond happens to be related to the Old English freo, which means free. It comes from the Proto Germanic frijaz, which is quite similar to the above crazy word frijojanan. Unlike frijojanan though, frijaz can be trace to the Proto Indo European prijos, which means beloved. Beloved like a friend perhaps. So yes, free once was closer to love, which makes a lot more sense for friend. As for why free is like that, there’s only guessing.

We’re still not done. If you take that r out of friend, you basically have the opposite: fiend. That’s true in Old English, too, where the word feond means enemy. It happens to be the present participle of feogan, to hate, coming from the Proto Germanic fijaejan and Proto Indo European pei, to blame or revile. This means that the lack of an r has made these two terms opposites as far back as etymology can trace.

Like, whoa.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language


  1. Wow. Those two words with opposite meanings are so close from way back to now.

  2. I was always struck by the contrast between those two words, seperated only by one letter...

    Freond sounds better.

  3. When you're with friends, you feel free, free to talk, free to share sensitive information, etc ... makes sense! :)

  4. That was great. I do love the origins of words and their meanings. There are a number of words whose meaning changes dramatically when one removes but a single letter. Amazing that Friend has remained one of these over the generations of use. Here's something you might try: people always read what they expect to see (unless super-observant or good proof-readers) so I often spell things deliberately wrong to create another meaning. My favourite is to write "Dear Sir or Madman" everyone reads "Madam" because that's what they expect to see. I should try "Dear Fiend" to somebody I'm annoyed at and see what happens...

  5. I want to bring frijaz back. What a word! I bet I could get some teenagers on board... Maybe not.

  6. That's awesome. It's like language saw the friend/enemy thing and thought, "We really have a winner on our hands here. Let's keep it forever."


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