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.”
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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