People are met in life through social interactions, and some of them become friends. Friends benefit each other by interacting with each other on various occasions. Friendships are built on the foundation of social skills, which allow one to interact with others and identify potential friends. People make friends in their surroundings, such as school, work, and neighborhoods, more often than not. Friends tend to have things in common that bring them together, such as supporting the same basketball team, pursuing the same degree, or attending the same institution. Friendships are also built on mutual trust among those who share a common bond. Over the years, the meaning of the word friend has evolved into different known today. An analysis of the etymological definition of the word friend reveals that it has evolved to gain new meanings historically, socially, and culturally.
The Dictionary Meaning of ‘Friend’
For one to understand how the definition of friend has evolved, comprehension of the dictionary meaning is essential. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word friend refers to the attachment that people develop towards others through regard and preference. The word is derived from the phrase feond and freond which were transformed to derive the word. From this definition, it is clear the word friend refers to people that one has preference, and shares feeling towards them. Indeed, the phrases from which the word was derived means ‘to favor or love,” and this forms the foundation for friendships to develop. For a person to be considered a friend, they have to extend favors to be people they love if this definition is anything to go by. Typically, this definition advances the view that friends share a bond that is unique where they can do favors for each other; something that it is rare for them to do to others. In general, the etymological definition of friends presents a rather first step towards gives a meaning to the common word.
At the same time, standard dictionaries such as Merriam Webster have also tried to give a meaning to the word friend. According to Merriam-Webster, a friend is a person who is attached to another through showing affection as well as esteem. The dictionary further underlines the meaning of the word as a person who is not hostile towards others as this will mean that they are enemies. Furthermore, a friend is also a favored companion whose interest is to see those they share affection succeed (Merriam-Webster). This standard dictionary definition of the word friend has not evolved far from the etymological meaning. Indeed, both definitions share the meaning that a friend is someone that is favored by others. From this standard meaning, friends are people that support the goals of the individuals they share affection as they want to see them succeed. For example, a best friend will not erode the self-esteem of those they love; another example is people holding a fundraiser for a library since they are friends to the library. In essence, a friend according to this standard definition must not be a person, but also encompasses all those aspects that one shares affection and favor.
Historical Definition of Friend
According to Schoner, the word friend no longer has the same meaning as it had it the past, and this can be attributed to the historical evolution of the word (2). The word which has been translated into languages such as Portuguese, Arabic and Spanish has historically evolved and gained new meanings in each of these languages. For example, the Italian and Portuguese languages have historically given meaning to the word based on love. This presents an evolution from the etymological and standard definition of the word whereby it was conceptualized around favor and love. However, the Arabic language presents a completely different meaning of the word friend; for one to be considered a friend, they have to be telling the truth. Indeed, most friendships are based on trust, and this extends to telling a person the truth is one considers them to be a friend. In essence, the historical definition of the word friend has evolved through several languages where it has gained new meanings.
At the same time, moral and philosophical concepts have also influenced the evolving meaning of the word friend. In philosophy, the meaning of the word is conceptualized around the teaching of Plato and Aristotle. According to their teachings, openness is the basis of any form of friendship among people. A person must treat those they consider to be their friends with value. In terms of philosophy, it is clear that the word friend has not changed that much from its initial etymological and standard meaning. In essence, the term friend has historically evolved to imply people that one is open to and trusts them with various aspects of their life.
Cultural Definition of Friend
According to Wierzbicka, it is also possible to understand the meaning of the word friend from different cultural perspectives. In the Japanese culture, the word friend has two contextual meaning; shinyu and tomodachi which are used to mean intimate friend and closer friend respectively. For example, children in kindergarten can have a shinyu, but not a tomodachi; however, adults can have both (Wierzbicka 35). The word friend has evolved in culture to imply people that are in need, and this is based on the biblical concept of the word friend. In some cultures, the word friend is also used to refer to a circle of people who share a close bond. In essence, the word friend is used to mean different aspect when it comes to the cultural context, and this presents an evolution from its etymological meaning.
Psychological Concept of Friendship
Friendship is generally defined in psychology with regard to reciprocity, intimacy social capital as well as shared memories. According to Wehmeyer, a variety of relationship kinds may fulfill the need to belong to individuals (62). For instance, among many individuals, family members offer a deep sense of connection. For many adults, positive interactions with other workmates and colleagues or participation of meaningful groups and clubs offer opportunities to feel allied with others. For people with disabilities, relationships that are developed with service providers as well as their caregivers are often close and assume wide relevance. Most psychologists believe that at the most fundamental level, friendships are one of a number of relationships that may satisfy the fundamental need for human connection to belonging.
Damon, Lerner, and Eisenberg underline that children perceive their friendship partners in particularized rather than role related ways (605). They emphasize the uniqueness of the relationship and reject efforts to treat certain friendship partners as interchangeable to others. Many psychologists note commonalities in personalities as well as the behavioral tendencies across friendship of a focal child; however, the focal child is likely to be appealed by distinctions and diversity among his or her individual partners and relationships. In most cases, children try to befriend other children, but their relationship hangs on a weak thread. Under the emotional influence, children may make friends but also break friendships at the same time. On the other hand, the bonds of friendship are stronger among adolescents. Moreover, adolescents may make great sacrifices to maintain their friends. Ultimately, psychologists believe that humans are by nature social beings, therefore social isolation can be extremely detrimental to individuals.
Cultural Conceptions of ‘Friend’
People’s culture influences the kind of friendships that they take, the friendship’s salience in people’s lives, the extent to which they allow their influence as well as the support that they offer. A person’s behavior is influenced by his or her current context as well as the unique demographics. Therefore, friendship behaviors are subject to a person’s date of birth, the geographic location that one was raised, family traditions as well as the circumstance of parents. Moreover, race, color, and gender all interact to influence people’s ability for building and maintaining relationships. The structural transformation of cultures also has an influence in the friendship fates of many individuals. Different cultural contexts differ on how they prioritize the importance of material aid as well as the discussion of personal matters in their friendship. Moreover, members from different cultures may differ on how to moral dilemmas (Hruschka 171). Notably, friendships across various are quite similar in a number of features such as perceived quality and emotional support, expectations of a good friend, modes of communication and influence, feelings of closeness and what counts as betrayal or bad behavior.
According to Sanderson, friendships in individualistic cultures often entail concepts of describing personal stimulation including creative, active and energetic, and directs activities (455). People in most individualistic cultures tend to appreciate friends who are independent. Moreover, too much dependence in friendships is often viewed as an indication of personal weakness. Moreover, people from individualistic cultures tend to distinguish between different types of friends. In contrast, collectivist cultures are known for emphasizing comfort as well as ease. In collectivist cultures, friendships focus on practical support, interdependence as well as advice. Moreover, people from such cultures also focus on interpersonal concerns that affect larger social networks including workplace relationships.
From the above discussion, it is apparent that the word friend has evolved and gained new meanings historically, socially, culturally and psychologically. A look at the etymological and standard meaning of the word reveals that it has changed from what it was like in the past to include new aspects. The etymological meaning was based on favor and love. However, the word has evolved historically as people from different cultures try to give a meaning to what it means to be a friend. A comprehension of these different meanings is therefore essential if one has to understand how the word is used in different contexts. One thing that is clear is that friendships in the contemporary context are different from those in the past although all of the are based on mutual trust and love.
Damon, William, Richard M. Lerner, and Nancy Eisenberg, eds. Handbook of Child Psychology: Volume Three: Social, Emotional, and Personality Development. Wiley, 2006.
“Definition Of Friend”. Merriam-Webster.Com, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/friend.
Hruschka, Daniel J. Friendship: Development, ecology, and evolution of a relationship. Vol. 5. Univ of California Press, 2010.
“Online Etymology Dictionary: Friend”. Etymonline.Com, 2017, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=friend&allowed_in_frame=0.
Schönher, Mathias. “The Friend as Conceptual Persona in Deleuze and Guattari.” (2010).
Sanderson Catherine A. Social Psychology. John Wiley & Sons. 2009.
Wehmeyer, Michael L. The Oxford handbook of positive psychology and disability. Oxford University Press, 2013.
Wierzbicka, Anna. Understanding cultures through their key words: English, Russian, Polish, German, and Japanese. Vol. 8. Oxford University Press, 1997.