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Friends and amis on Facebook

Written By: kernrg on June 12, 2010 2 Comments

add to friendsAn interesting aspect of social network sites like Facebook and MySpace is their appropriation of the word “friend.”  I sometimes get email messages from people I hardly know (and sometimes people I don’t know at all) inviting me to friend them (now it seems there is no more need to use the verb “befriend“).

How can this happen?  Part of it is the technological infrastructure of social networking sites, which allow users to browse friends’ friend lists and to click on people they think would be good to have on their own network for one reason or another. These people end up being called “friends” not because the person thinks of them as friends, but because the computer programmers who designed Facebook didn’t give us any more nuanced alternatives.

With online and offline worlds overlapping to such a great extent, the meaning of “friend” may not be so clear-cut even when people talk face to face.  But then English has always given wide latitude to the meaning of friend, compared to some other languages.  In French, for example,  ami generally implies a stronger and more enduring tie than is necessarily the case in an American friend, and it contrasts with un/une camarade, with whom one might hang out and have fun, and une connaissance, a mere acquaintance.

So how do the French deal with a Facebook friend?  They translate it as “ami,” but keep it in quotes and stipulate the following definition:

Sur Facebook, vos « amis » sont les connaissances, les amis et les membres de votre famille avec qui vous communiquez déjà dans la vie.

Who knows what semantic shifts might be down the road for French friends.  A suivre donc…

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2 Responses to “Friends and amis on Facebook”

  1. Csaba on: 12 June 2010 at 6:31 am

    Not to mention “false friends” (“faux amis”)…


  2. Jenn on: 4 September 2010 at 2:09 am

    I have the same problem, so irritating :S

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