I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. There’s so many different forms and so many complications, it’s a wonder any of us have friends. For instance, I absolutely consider my family friends of mine, but not in the same way that my peers and I are friends. And I have friends that are girls, and friends that are boys. Same word, but it’s not quite the same. Ah, the curse of the English language as stupefied by the Americans. Too many meanings, not enough words.
Succumbing to my curiosity, I looked up the word “friend” on dictionary.com. They have this neat little section that explains the origin of the word and how it evolved over time. (The first time I saw that section on the website, I got pretty excited. It’s just so cool to find out how each individual word has changed and morphed as society has!) So, let me summarize the evolution of the word “friend.” The word first appeared in Old High German as friunt, but quickly morphed into the Gothic word frijōnds. This word for friend is a cognate of the present participle of frijōn, which means “to love.” I thought that was interesting. The origin of the word “friend” meant “to love.” How many people do we call “friends,” but yet we do not truly love them? The Old English language then adopted the word from the Saxons (who had been going around Europe invading and bringing bits and pieces of language along with them. Apparently they borrowed the German’s frijōn and then brought it to England.) In Old English, the word was frēond, and meant “friend, lover, relative.” The English embraced a much wider interpretation of the word and applied it to people they were close to, romantic attachments, and family. The word still held true to the root of love, however. It was still used in situations where the “frēond” was someone you did love. The Middle English changed the spelling slightly, but the meaning remained the same. The next major occurrence of the word came when Quakers took the name as the Religious Society of Friends. The love remained, though. Quakers have been known to show love to everyone they’ve met through providing shelter, help, and encouragement to others. Eventually the word came to mean “patron,” as in a person who funds someone or some organization. I suppose you could say these patrons did it out of love, but I have a feeling that’s when the word “friend” lost it’s sense of love. People began to associate “friends” as loosely, the opposite of an enemy. So, even if I don’t like you, if you’re not my enemy, then you’re my friend. Not much love incorporated at all. With the rise of social media, the word has taken even more deterioration. Facebook specifically uses the word “friends” to describe the people you have agreed to let join your site and view things thereof. I have Facebook friends I’ve never physically met before. (i.e. “Hey friend me on Facebook so I can see your constant flow of selfies!”)
So, with all that said, what should the word “friend” mean nowadays? Because we lack better terms, we call almost everyone our “friends.” From what I’ve seen, if you try to be more specific and say that someone is an “acquaintance,” you seem stand-offish and relate a level of dislike towards that person. What are we supposed to do? How are we going to categorize all the people we’ve ever met if we have roughly two words to describe them: “friend” and “not my friend.”
But at the same time, do we really need to categorize people like that? Maybe we’re on to something. Maybe our liberal application of the word “friend” is a good thing.
We are called by God to love everyone, including our enemies, (Matthew 5:44) so if we call nearly everyone we know our “friends,” whose root meant “to love,” aren’t we just fulfilling what we’ve been called to do? That had a lot of commas. Let me rephrase: The root of “friend” meant “to love,” and God calls us to love everyone. So, shouldn’t we call everyone our friends?
Of course, it’s all in the heart. We can throw the term out as many times as we’d like, but are we truly being loving towards all the people we call friends? That is the hope. -convicted shiver- Pardon me while I go through my Facebook friends list and delete anyone I don’t love. Ha, just kidding. However, there are people on that list I need to actively work to love. Perhaps my Facebook list is a blessing in disguise! It gives me a good list to prayerfully consider how I am loving those people.