The Grammarphobia Blog

You’ve got a friend

Q: Just when I’ve begun to tolerate “heart,” either word or symbol, as a verb, another verb has popped up. In a poster showing lovingly clasped hands, the caption is “Friend me forever.”

A: This use of “friend” may sound jarring to modern ears (at least those not used to its online social meaning), but once upon a tyme it was routine.

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s entry for “friend” as a verb has published citations going back to 1225! Its original meaning was “to gain friends for.”

In the 1300s, its meaning widened to include “to make (persons) friends or friendly; to join in friendship.”

It was commonly used in the sense “to be friended,” as in this example from Thomas Usk’s medieval allegory The Testament of Love (1387-88): “Charitie is love, and love is charity. God graunt us al therin to be frended!”

In the mid-1500s, the verb “friend” acquired the meaning it has regained in the Facebook age: “to act as a friend to, befriend (a person, cause, etc.); to assist, help.” Here are a couple of examples:

1600, from Philemon Holland’s translation of Livy’s history of Rome: “They had undertaken the warre upon king Philip, because he had friended and aided the Carthaginians.”

1676, from William Row’s supplement to the autobiography of his father-in-law, Robert Blair: “Reports came that the King would friend Lauderdale.”

The most recent citations in the OED for the use of “friend” as a verb are from the 19th century. As you point out, though, it’s having a rebirth in the 21st.

Maybe our old friend will stick around this time, like the one in the Carole King song: “Winter, spring, summer or fall / All you have to do is call / And I’ll be there / You’ve got a friend.”

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