The Verb "Unfriended" Is Way Older Than Facebook

Brilliance | Dec. 16, 2017

After one too many rants on your Facebook feed, you may decide to unfriend your annoying aunt Helen once and for all. Unfriend, which means "to remove (someone) from a list of friends or contacts on a social networking website," has become a commonly used verb in our vocabulary. But where did the term come from?

According to Interesting Literature, the Middle English poem "Brut" by Layamon is the first known usage of both "muggle" and a form of "unfriend": "We sollen ... slean houre onfrendes and King Learwenden after Brenne." Here, the noun form of unfriend (though spelled slightly differently) delineates someone who is not a friend, but not necessarily an enemy either. It wasn't until the 17th century that "unfriend" was first used as a verb. Mark Zuckerberg can thank the late, great William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was known for inventing words, and he was also the first to use "unfriend" as a verb. The way he used it was slightly different—a passive losing of friends, rather than the active ending of a friendship—such as in this line from "Twelfth Night": "Being skilless in these parts; which to a stranger, / Unguided and unfriended, often prove / Rough and unhospitable." The verb most closely resembles our modern definition in a 17th century letter by Thomas Fuller, which states: "I Hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Un-friended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us."

But once we got to the internet age, the credit went to Facebook, right? Not so fast. In fact, the first internet usage of the verb "unfriend" was in 2003 from a Usenet user named "Woo-hoo." Learn some more words that are older than they seem in the videos below.

Hot Comments
You're the first to comment
Say something.
Open app to add comment