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Facebook’s ‘unfriend’ is Word of the Year

There are 300 million plus users on Facebook in the United States alone. Even if you and your spell check don’t approve of the New Oxford American Dictionary's  newest verb “unfriend,” odds are, you’ve done it.
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OMG! It’s that time of year again! For realsies!

We just tossed the rotten jack-o’-lantern and already New Oxford American Dictionary announces its “Word of the Year.” For 2009, that word is a verb, one with which we in our social network-obsessed culture should be very familiar: “Unfriend: To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.”

Let the harrumphing begin! And then put a sock in it, my friend. Language evolves. Civilization fails to end. It has been ever thus. There are 300 million plus users on Facebook worldwide. Even if you and your spell-checker don’t approve of the NOAD’s newest verb “unfriend,” odds are, you’ve done it.

As in, “I decided to my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight,” illustrates .

As in, “One of the many ways to b**** slap someone on 'Teh Interweb,’ ” as defined by Urban Dictionary, the official Web site of unofficial language where many a new word makes its debut long before Oxford and the other gatekeepers of the English language acknowledge nomenclature that comes to stay. ('Cause, ya know ... nerdlets were ‘unfriending’ on LiveJournal Internet eons ahead of Facebook.)

“(Unfriend) has both currency and potential longevity,” Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford’s U.S. dictionary program, said in the NOAD blog.  “In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year.”

While it’s the first Internet-inspired word to receive the WOTY title, it will appear in NOAD’s 2010 edition with other tech-savvy terms, including:

  • hashtag – a # [hash] sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets (postings on the Twitter site) that contain similarly tagged items and view thematic sets
  • intexticated – distracted because of texting on a cell phone while driving a vehicle
  • netbook – a small, very portable laptop computer with limited memory
  • paywall – a way of blocking access to a part of a Web site that is only available to paying subscribers
  • sexting – the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cell phone

Please note, the NOAD is not above verbing the noun when it comes to “unfriend’s” root word, “friend,” either.

“Friend” currently appears in the dictionary’s second edition, but in an archaic use – not the way it’s used on Facebook, an Oxford spokesperson confirmed. That all changes in the third edition, too.

So before you go apoplectic over “unfriend,” consider these words that will share the dictionary’s pages come 2010: freemium, funemployed, zombie bank, birther, choice mom, death panel, teabagger, brown state, green state, ecotown, deleb and tramp stamp.

Verb the noun when you friend Helen A.S. Popkin on , or join in with other tweeple following her on .