You’d Be Surprised At How Old The Verb ‘Unfriend’ Is

11:30 am 20 Jul, 2017


Usually, the word ‘unfriend’ is associated with the world of social networking. This word, which is thought to be trendy or be in circulation since new media technologies have boomed, actually bears its origin in ancient literature.

The word ‘unfriend’ as a noun dates from around 1275, meaning ‘one who is not a friend.’ It is found in Layamon’s medieval epic poem ‘Brut’.

Wikimedia Commons


Meanwhile, ‘unfriend’ as a verb is attested from 1659 in a work by a T. Fuller: “I Hope, Sir, that we are not mutually un-friended by this difference which hath happened betwixt us”. When used this way, it means that someone has lost their friend.

So, it seems Fuller got there nearly 350 years before Facebook.


According to Interesting Literature, the Middle English poem ‘Brut’ by Layamon is the first known usage of both “muggle” and a form of “unfriend”: “We sollen … slean houre onfrendes and King Learwenden after Brenne.” Here, we find the noun form of unfriend, which means someone who is not a friend, but also not a rival.

From the play of Shakespeare. Wikimedia Commons


Shakespeare also used the verb ‘unfriend’, though he used it in manner which referred to losing friends or ending an active friendship. Such as in this line from ‘Twelfth Night’:

Being skilless in these parts; which to a stranger, / Unguided and unfriended, often prove / Rough and unhospitable.

The verb most closely resembling our modern definition turned up in a 17th century letter by Thomas Fuller, which states:

I Hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Un-friended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us.

While Mark Zuckerberg can thank the late, great William Shakespeare for th word, it wasn’t until the 17th century that “unfriend” was first used as a verb.

Since the time of internet age, we give the credit of coining this term to Facebook, but interestingly, it trace its etymology back to the pages of history.


Here is a look at words which were invented by Shakespeare.

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