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July 31st, 2006


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09:00 pm - Different words for friendship
feliciakw and I were discussing friendship and the different ways people view it, the different ways they define or live that type of relationship.

And we decided that there aren't enough words in English for the varying types and levels of friendship.

There are, of course, various ways to indicate particular closeness. Someone is your "best friend," "kindred spirit," or "close." Maybe, if you want to be specific and archaic, "anem cara" (Gaelic: "soul friend").

From there, we have "friend" (unmodified noun), and then "acquintance."

Not much else.

I grew up reading Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montgomery (Anne and Diana), and J.R.R. Tolkien (Frodo and Sam). I do not give my deep friendship easily, but when I do, I expect the sharing, the caring, the level of reciprocity and trust, to be like that. For me, for a long time, "being a friend" meant being like Samwise. You love and serve and take care of your friend. You share life with them; rather like having siblings not related by blood.

Then I went off to university, and was in a culture of almost solely my own age for the first time. (I was homeschooled through high school.) The shallowness of most people's so-called "friendships" made me sick. I couldn't believe how people would hang out all the time for one semester, and then almost never seen each other again once they no longer shared a class. It made no sense to me.

To an extent, it still doesn't. And I still have trouble applying the word "friend" to such on-the-surface social relationships.

A real friend, as feliciakw once defined it, is the person you can call at 3am when your car breaks down a hundred miles away, and know that they'll come and get you.

Those are the few we are so blessed to have.

There are many others, kindred spirits with whom we share much, but whom we are not committed to in that way. They, too, are precious.

But shouldn't there be some way to describe these lower relationships? Those we barely know, mutual friends, friends-of-friends, members of our bookclubs, our flists, people who attend our Bible study and know our struggles with seeking God, friends we ask to pray for us, and friends we can call in the middle of the night when we get bad news....

Our language gives us such a poor selection of phrases for such a multiplicity of relationships. I suppose I shouldn't expect it to be any less messy than we humans, ourselves, are.

I still think we could use a few more words to define friendship.

Or, we could just agree not to apply it to people who are only acquintances or co-workers, not friends.

Any thoughts? I may be the only one who ponders this, but if you agree or disagree, feel free to comment. I'd be interested to know what you think.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

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Comments:


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From:flouritephoenix
Date:August 1st, 2006 05:07 am (UTC)
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I think, um, that LJ creating the word flist has cheapened the word.

You don't generally meet your lifelong friends, or forever friends, and instantly know they are such, as people do in old YA novels. It's like dating. You have to try them on and see if they fit, and sometimes that process takes a while. Sometimes you think that someone will be that and they just aren't. (Speaking as someone who broke off a friendship just today.) Sometimes you date someone and you think that they'll be the one, and you're not right. Sometimes you break up with them and years later come together again. Friends and lovers.

It's like that idea that there are only 500 real people in the world, and the rest of the people are extras. Rather, there are many circles of 500 people in the world, and other circles provide the extras for your circle. Some people are here for short times to teach us things. Some people are with us for short times to entertain us. Some people are there for a short time to allow us to lean on them. And they aren't meant to stay, but they propell us to the next part of our lives.

I think that there's a danger in being afraid to call those short-lived yet intense relationships "friendships" because they are transient. These ephemeral friendships may not create structure for 2000 page series of novels, but they do make up many of the most important moments of our lives.

And people I'll never speak to again have been my friends. They just aren't, now.
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From:whitemartyr
Date:August 1st, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC)
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I think that there's a danger in being afraid to call those short-lived yet intense relationships "friendships" because they are transient. These ephemeral friendships may not create structure for 2000 page series of novels, but they do make up many of the most important moments of our lives.

And people I'll never speak to again have been my friends. They just aren't, now.


I think that you are talking about something different than izhilzha was with regards to brief friendships. You using the word 'intense' would tell me that you did have an actual friendship there however brief. I think what she meant is rather passing aquaintances who you never go deeper with but for a common existence (like a class or something). Because true friendship is deeper... that's the impression I get anyway. I could be putting words into her mouth! (Sorry if I am)

I love the 500 real people theory. That's awesome. :)
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From:whitemartyr
Date:August 1st, 2006 12:45 pm (UTC)
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Our language gives us such a poor selection of phrases for such a multiplicity of relationships. I suppose I shouldn't expect it to be any less messy than we humans, ourselves, are.

I agree!! We too were having this type of thought a day or two ago, were we not? How annoying, this language is. I wonder if the fact that English lacks in the wording for 'friend' has anything to do with our culture. Do many ever really actually have true friends? Really? Curious...

we should make up new words. ;)
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From:jd3000
Date:August 1st, 2006 04:10 pm (UTC)
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we should make up new words.

That is very true! I'll start.

Knowen: The person you've been introduced to, and bumped into twice or thrice thereafter at the grocery store or coffee shop, and had pleasant but superficial conversation with each time.

-JD
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From:amberdulen
Date:August 1st, 2006 12:53 pm (UTC)
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I use "buddy" for people I like but am not very close to; also, just saying where you know them from works.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:August 1st, 2006 02:07 pm (UTC)
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Interesting -- I'd use the term "buddy" the other way around, for someone that one is closer to.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:August 1st, 2006 02:07 pm (UTC)
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Interestingly enough, Australian English has the term "mate" meaning "friend that you stick with through thick and thin" (as distinct from the usage of "mate" meaning "random stranger", as in "G'day, mate!").

"Why did you go out on a limb for him?"
"He's me best mate."

Usually in a context of male-male friendships, interestingly enough. Blair and Jim would be "best mates", definitely.
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From:izhilzha
Date:August 1st, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)
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That's cool. I like that. Not used so often in female-female friendships?
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From:feliciakw
Date:August 1st, 2006 05:21 pm (UTC)
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Buddy

Pal

Chum (Me mum used to refer to my bro's group of friends as his chums :-) )

There's much to discuss here, but I must cogitate.

A real friend, as feliciakw once defined it, is the person you can call at 3am when your car breaks down a hundred miles away, and know that they'll come and get you.

This is a bit of wisdom my daddy passed on to me. :-)

I will say that I have a bro-in-law who, though I don't call him a "friend" in the conventional sense (we have pretty much nothing in common, we see each other only a handful of times a year, we've lived very different lives--I've been very sheltered compared to him--and I'm not usually comfortable talking to him about heavy topics), when I made my first trip to Los Angeles, before I left, he gave me his cell phone number and told me that if I had any problems at all or needed any help or found myself in any trouble, to call him and he'd come help me. I was so incredibly touched by this because his previous behavior said that he'd do just that. My in-laws found themselves in a bit of a (legal) bind during a trip to TX, and Bro-in-Law pretty much dropped everything and flew down to help them take care of things.

Like I said, we don't have anything in common (other than having married into the same family), but he's good people.

Still . . . since he's relation, I have a term I can apply to him.

I'll probably be back later to discuss. As I said, I must go cogitate.
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From:izhilzha
Date:August 1st, 2006 06:30 pm (UTC)
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Chum

There's a word that has sadly fallen out of use. I haven't heard that in years, and then mostly in older books I was reading. Aw. There's something rather easy and familiar about that word, as if you were linking your arm through your friend's and walking to class or something together, chatting.
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From:scionofgrace
Date:August 1st, 2006 05:50 pm (UTC)
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Ah, English! Twenty thousand words for "sex" and only one word for "friend."

We need a word better than "associate" for folks like coworkers that you like hanging out with but with whom you share no real common vision or depth. Folks who make you laugh but whom you'd never feel particularly responsible to.

I always said "good friend" for the ones that really meant something to me and whose friendship I would be devastated to lose.
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From:izhilzha
Date:August 1st, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
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*luvs ur icon*

Ah, English! Twenty thousand words for "sex" and only one word for "friend."

Heh. Yes. Which is yet another good reason to redefine friendship--to rescue it from people who try to make it into yet another synonym for "sex." (/anti-slasher preaching)

I always said "good friend" for the ones that really meant something to me and whose friendship I would be devastated to lose.

I use "good friend," "close friend," or "sister" for those--I abandoned the use of "best friend" in 5th grade after two of my friends had a fight over which of them was my best friend. *eyeroll*
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From:kalquessa
Date:August 1st, 2006 06:16 pm (UTC)
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Interesting thought, I've always managed with "close friend/honorary family" "friend" and "acquaintance" with occasional uses of "friend from the internet" and "friend from work" thrown in for clarity. I try to avoid "best friend" because I have a few dear friends that all fit the definition for different reasons, and picking one out as "best" would be difficult and pointless.

Still, extra words for clearer meaning might be handy, if only because there are so many gradations of meaning with terms like "friend" and "acquaintance".
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From:izhilzha
Date:August 1st, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC)
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I try to avoid "best friend" because I have a few dear friends that all fit the definition for different reasons, and picking one out as "best" would be difficult and pointless.

Word. Though I have occasionally used "best friend" and qualified it for each one: best childhood friend, best university friend, best friend from church, best writing friend...usually when I'm trying to discuss such a topic with people who use this term as a normal part of their vocab. :-P

Still, extra words for clearer meaning might be handy, if only because there are so many gradations of meaning with terms like "friend" and "acquaintance".

I know. We should start some kind of mini-dictionary and see if we can spread the new words throughout fandom and RL. :-) [If Shakespeare and fandom can make up words, so can we!]
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From:sciencewizard
Date:August 3rd, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC)
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My instinct is to downgrade the term "friend" to a relationship that's allowed to me more transient and coin a new term for the deeper relationships that are meant to endure. I've generally been refering to my best friend as my sister for years now, simply because I figure that's what she deserves to be. Then again, I'm an only child, so it's probably different if you have real blood siblings.
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From:izhilzha
Date:August 3rd, 2006 09:08 pm (UTC)
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My instinct is to downgrade the term "friend" to a relationship that's allowed to me more transient and coin a new term for the deeper relationships that are meant to endure.

Yeah, I suppose that's going to be the way it is. That's what I've had to do, because people don't understand "friend" as the more enduring relationships.

I've generally been refering to my best friend as my sister for years now, simply because I figure that's what she deserves to be. Then again, I'm an only child, so it's probably different if you have real blood siblings.

Actually, no, I've often used the term sister for my very close friends--I have at least two right now whom I often use the term with. And I'm the eldest of seven children. Though your only child thing does apply somewhat: all my blood sisters are at least 15 years younger than me, so my female friends, all my life, have been my surrogate sisters. They still are.
[User Picture]
From:feliciakw
Date:November 14th, 2006 04:41 pm (UTC)
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Many moons late, but I (or rather George) finally found the poem I wanted to share in this thread. The author is unknown.

A Friend's Prayer

O, Lord,
Let me be a companion in joy and a comforter in sorrow.
Help me find the courage to say what needs saying and the wisdom to know what doesn't.
Let me care always--and always find ways to show how much I care.
Let me be the kind of person who can always be trusted, confided in, counted on.
In every true sense of the word,
Let Me Be A Friend.

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