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Unfriend: Oxford's 2009 Word of the Year

'Unfriend' follows hypermiling, 2008's word of the year choice.

By Andrew Heining / November 16, 2009

Unfriend? Just a click severs ties, and the term has earned a "word of the year" honors.

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It's one of the social networking revolution's more unpleasant elements – that awkward moment of realization that a separation needs to (or has) occur(ed).

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The reasons for one are legion: There's the "it's not you, I just can't keep up with everyone" (Robert Scoble, we're looking at you). Or "I added you back when I was young and stupid – two years ago." Or our favorite: "I only added you so you'd stop sending me requests."

And so "unfriend," verb, "To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook," has been chosen as the Oxford University Press's 2009 Word of the Year.

Happily (or not), most unfriendings go unnoticed. Unless, of course, the unfriended belongs to the school of social networkers – common on Twitter – who keep a close eye on their online friend tally... and then they're just asking for it. Noticed or not, unfriendings are a fact of digital life, and we all need to learn to just let them happen. (Or, just ask Vin Diesel if he can spare any extras.)

Why 'unfriend' and not, say, "birther" or "twitpacolypse"? Christine Lindberg, Oxford's Senior Lexicographer for its US dictionary program justifies it like this: "[Unfriend] has both currency and potential longevity. In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice...."

Other tech terms considered:

hashtag – a # [hash] sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets (postings on the Twitter site) that contain similarly tagged items and view thematic sets
intexticated – distracted because texting on a cellphone while driving a vehicle (Bluetooth is your friend. Even you, Bugatti owners)
netbook – a small, very portable laptop computer with limited memory
paywall – a way of blocking access to a part of a website which is only available to paying subscribers
sexting – the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cellphone

Last year's Oxford Press Word of the Year? Hypermiling. The energy- (and money-) saving concept, profiled in-depth by the Monitor's Mark Clayton, was picked for its broad common-sense appeal. For more, head to our list of hypermiling tips.

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Got a classic unfriending story? Leave it in the comments. Or, catch up with us on Twitter. And, if we're still friends (sob), you can find us on Facebook.

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