'Friend,' as a Verb, Is 800 Years Old

Sorry, Zuck! English speakers have been friending each other for centuries.
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"Greetings, will ye friende me?" (Shutterstock/Igor Bulgarin)

"Disorder, that hath spoil'd us, friend us now!" 

That was Shakespeare. Writing in Henry V. In 1599.

Mark Zuckerberg, in other words, was not the first guy in history to use "friend" as a verb. And neither, for that matter, was Shakespeare. In a list of 16 words that are much older than they seem, the good people of Mental Floss have pointed out that "friend" is indeed much, much older than we tend to give it credit for. See, for example, this note: "Reports came that the King would friend Lauderdale." That was written by William Row in the 17th century.

While Mental Floss dates the oldest friend-as-verb usage to the 14th century, the law professor and medievalist Sasha Volokh* has found examples that are even older than that. The earliest instance he came across? It dates to the early 13th century. Yes. Which would make that seemingly contemporary usage, the action-based use of "friend" made newly famous by Facebook, at least 800 years old.

Below, per this post, are some instances of friending dating from the BZ (Before Zuckerberg) era:

  • "Make no purses, for to friend yourself therewith." -- the Guide for Anchoresses, early 13th century

  • "Charity is love, and love is charity. God grant us all therein to be friended." -- Thomas Usk, in the last sentences of his Testament of Love, c. 1387

  • "And after soon friended were the King David of Scotland and Stephen, king then of England." -- Andrew of Wyntoun, Chronicles, c. 1425

  • "Friend they any, that flatter many?" -- John Heywood, Proverbs and Epigrams, 1562

  • "Thou shall never get regeneration before God be friended with thee: thou is his enemy, thou must be friended with him." -- Robert Rollock, in a sermon, late 16th century

  • "They had undertaken the warre upon king Philip, because he had friended and aided the Carthaginians." -- Philemon Holland, translation of Livy, 1600

  • "But friended with the flood the barons hold their strength." -- Michael Drayton, Poly-Olbion, 1622

  • "There the street is narrow, and may friend our purpose well." -- Thomas Southerne, The Spartan Dame, 1721

  • "That germ of kindness, in the womb / Of mercy caught, did not expire; / Outlives my guilt, outlives my doom, / And friends me in the pit of fire." -- Matthew Arnold's St. Brandan, 1867

*I updated this post to reflect the fact that Sasha Volokh, not his brother Eugene, was the author of the post in question. Apologies to both brothers!

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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