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I unfriend you. Whatever.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Saturday, 21st November 2009
 
Honestly, you know, at the end of the day, like, because it is what it is, I have to unfriend you - Whatever. Yeoh Siew Hoon gets downright annoying this week.

So the word of the year is "unfriend", according to the The New Oxford American Dictionary. That's as in "I unfriend you" on social networks like Facebook.

Actually – honestly (I will come back to this word later) – it's not a new word. I recall it being a word I used in my primary school years in Penang – like (another word I will come back to), if you didn't like someone in your class, you'd say, "I unfriend you lah."

I have to admit I have yet to "unfriend" anyone on Facebook or Linked In or Plaxo. All my "friends" are pretty well behaved. They only ever leave comments on my Wall when I post photos of food or my dog, which pretty much shows the narrow interests of my "friends".

I use the word "friends" in inverted commas because I don't want to use the word "friend" – which I think is a very important word – too freely.

In today's world of Facebooking, it is easy to confuse "friends" with friends. While the dictionary has several definitions of "friend" – from "a person whom one knows, likes and trusts" to "one who supports, symphatises with or patronises a group" – the history of the word goes back a long way.

According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, "A friend" is a lover, literally. The relationship between Latin am cus "friend" and am "I love" is clear, as is the relationship between Greek philos "friend" and phile "I love." The Germanic root behind this verb is *fr -, which meant "to like, love, be friendly to."

I unearth all this because I overheard someone saying quite loudly in a packed room, "So-and-so (an important politician) is my friend."

I am afraid that she may really think he is her friend rather than a smart and shrewd politician who knows that the best way to get votes to is "friend" people on social networks.

And I am afraid that in the world we live in where so many lines have been blurred, this one distinction will too be lost.

Just as someone once said, age should be counted with friends, not years, so the richness of one's life should be counted with friends, not money.

Walter Winchell should know – at the height of his fame, the American radio and newspaper commentator had a huge following but towards the end of his career, found his audience dwindling. He said, "A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out."

Or to paraphrase French author Claude Mermet, friends are like durians – "to find one good, you must one hundred try". In that way, I suppose, Facebook is a good way to gather as many durians as you can and then try to find the one most fragrant gem among them.

So back to the word "unfriend" – the Oxford University Press USA said the verb had beaten netbook, sexting, paywall, birther and death panel for the honour. Previous words of the year include carbon neutral, locavore and hypermiling. Locavores are people who eat locally grown food while hypermilers modify their cars and driving techniques to maximise petrol mileage.

In the same week, a college poll in America found out that the word most reviled by Americans (47% of those polled) is "whatever". "Whatever" easily beat out "you know," which grated a quarter of respondents. The other annoying contenders were "anyway", "it is what it is" and "at the end of the day".

Honestly, you know, at the end of the day, like, because it is what it is, I have to unfriend you. Whatever.

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com

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