Wednesday, December 16, 2009


“What word best sums up 2009? How about the word ‘unfriend?' That’s the new Oxford American Dictionary’s 2009 word of the year. Unfriend means, of course, to remove someone as a friend on a social networking Web site such as Facebook. Each year, Oxford University Press tracks how the English language is changing and chooses the word that best reflects the mood of the year.” (KCAL)

That was the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, talking about the Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year, ‘unfriend.' Other terms considered include ‘netbook’ and ‘sexting’. The Oxford University Press’s decision has sparked a conversation in the media about the English language, and how it has changed in response to the Internet’s rising popularity.

We’re looking at perspectives from ABC News, CTV, KPIX and Urban Dictionary to see what they think about unfriending.

CTV News talks to David Stover, the president of Oxford University Press. Stover explains the process of picking the word of the year, and why unfriending deserves the title for 2009.

“Well there’s a number of ways a word gets in contention. We look for things that are topical, things that are coming into use across the board, and to be honest, the lexicographers want something that’s fun as well so this one hit it on all three criteria."

Urban Dictionary, a user-generated online dictionary, has multiple entries defining what it means to unfriend. Here’s one example.

"Compulsive people prune their friend list periodically, removing people that they no longer have contact with. More often though, unfriending is only done when a particular friend's updates and self-promotions become so annoying that you can no longer stand hearing about them."

But some debate that the term is inaccurate. ABC News talks to an assistant editor of a publishing house. She says that the term “defriending” is a better fit for the description.

"Unfriend… implies a complete lack -- that you are absolutely not friends… Defriend implies that you were once friends…Defriend seems to apply more to the action. Unfriend seems to apply more to the state of being."

Finally, San Francisco’s CBS affiliate takes a look at how the Internet, and Web sites such as Facebook, are changing definitions in the English language.

“Dana, I remember when my daughter was in kindergarten she came home after a little disagreement over a jump rope and said Jordana Rock was not her friend anymore, unfriending was just that simple. Now you gotta have a laptop, the Internet, a Facebook account to unfriend someone, of course preceeding that, you have to friend. Unfriend, as the new Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year, gains that distinction simply because there are more than 300 million users of Facebook." (KPIX)

So is it unfriending or defriending? And what do you think of the Internet's impact on the English language?

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