Oxford University Press has chosen unfriend as its word of the year for 2009.
To unfriend is "To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook."
Christine Lindberg explains that unfriend
assumes a verb sense of “friend” that is really not used (at least not since maybe the 17th century!) Altho a search for the verb forms, friended and friending bring up a couple million hits on a major web search engine.* And the intact phrase "tried to friend" (with quotes around it) brings up almost 35 million hits.
I'd say the verb friend really is used. And it's no secret. There has been lots of discussion about the verbing of friend for quite a while now. A lot of fear regarding anthimeria. Some people think these functional shifts are a sign of language anarchy. Except of course when Shakespeare does it. Then it's a sign genius. But we have no business trying to out-Shakespeare Shakespeare.
But let's see what commentary in reaction to unfriend we can roll our eyes at. To the TV!
Keith Olbermann commented on last night's show (Nov 17):
Altho the youngsters on the staff have informed me that defriend is the more common term for that. So there might be another vote on this.
Those youngsters that are constantly telling their parents what's cool and what's not, are often… not so cool.
Perhaps Olbermann's resident Hipper Youth prefer defriend for some reason. Maybe they see de- as a prefix indicating an act of reversal, and un- as a prefix indicating the withholding of a quality or state (read tangent here). But whatever their preference or their reason for it, I'm not sure there's reason to believe them that defriend is more common.
Our (marginally) trusty search engines offer up the following numbers.**
Search engine 1
Search engine 2
Search engine 3
Search engine 4 (which refused to exclude "Oxford")
This is a quick and sloppy survey. But I stand by it as evidence that people who don't observe language systematically, or with the tiniest bit of investigation, are bound to throw around worthless opinions about it. 'Tis Common.
* I'm getting tired of putting that little trademark sign in.
** The current discussion about OUP's choice is bound to inflate numbers for unfriend and not for defriend, so I've tried to correct for that but searching only for instances that don't also mention Oxford. This has played with the numbers some, actually increasing the hits when I exclude "Oxford" from some of the searches, but the relative hits are still definitely in favor of unfriend.