The Web Hostess: Should 'unfriend' be the word of the year?

Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 18, 2009; 1:00 PM

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners, and the next great meme.

This week, we discuss if "unfriend" deserved to be word of the year, great Facebook fails, and the best examples of porn in the wildand more.

Web Hostess chat archive.


Monica Hesse: Afternoon everyone, and thanks for stopping by.

This week on the Internets:

Oxford University Press named as their word of the year "unfriend." What think you? I've seen some debates over whether this is the correct prefix. Should it be defriend? Antifriend? Should it be paired with refriend (and served with Mesican rice?)?

I'm in the defriend camp, just because I've seen it more in public use. Really, Oxford, do your research.

(BTW, Oxford's 2008 word of the year was hypermiling, which I have used in casual conversation exactly never, and 2007 was locavore, which is pretty household now,)

On other topics, last week I looked at the phenomenon of public porn -- or as one brilliant interviewee for the piece coined it: secondhand smut. The ooky feeling you get when someone near you is watching porn on their laptop, iphone or other device. If this has happened to any of you, I think we need to hear your stories.

And if you've been an offender, I think we definitely, definitely need to hear your stories. I found a few in my research, but they wouldn't be named in print. We're all anonymous online...


Hey Cupcake : How can a word be chosen when the year is only 11.5/12ths completed?

We have plenty of time to create a word and get it mainstream This is a perfectly cromulent idea.

Monica Hesse: I am perfectly embiggened to suggest that we try this.

Anyone got a suggestion for a word that should topple unfriend? Suggest them now, or send them to me this week at


u street: Cupcake --

Holiday shopping sites? Pleeease? Don't make me venture from my house for shopping this year.

Monica Hesse: Leave the home for shopping, and get exposed to all that Christmas? Heavens no.

Our online holiday shoptacular will take place in two weeks, same time, same place. Come prepared with your favorite holiday shopping sites, and with a few descriptive words for who those gifts might work best for. Example: Go HERE to by presents for conspiracy theorist uncles.

By the by, we're putting off the shoptacular for two weeks because Hostess will be going dark next week. I'll be somewhere in the middle of cornfields on my way home for Thanksgiving.


Paris, France: hi,

Unfriend? I've been been using defriend/defriending. Has anyone else been using defriend?

Also a few weeks ago, you defined emo for me and then someone sent a link (Let me google that for you) but your definition was actually what I was looking for. Thanks.

Also, your intro to these chats says, "Submit your questions, comments, links, viral videos..."

So that means that we can send in videos with viruses in them?

Monica Hesse: Paris, France, I like you and your willingness to admit the things you do not know. Viral videos are not, in fact, infected -- they're just videos that have gone gangbusters online, and spread like gangbusters online. They're contagious like viruses.


Howard County, MD: I'm probably not the first person to submit a comment like this, but the folks at NOAD must have under-researched this concept. The proper term is "defriend." I have never seen or heard anyone use the word "unfriend" until now. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard, and I demand a recount!

Monica Hesse: But academics are always a wee bit behind the times, due to the thoroughness of their research. Next year's word of the year, that wildly popular social networking site FaceParchment.


Denver: So I've been thinking of either unfriending or dropping off of Facebook altogether. My brother dogged me into joining, so I do within the last year.

There were cousins that I never had much contract with who were on the site and I thought it would be nice way to connect. However, I rarely have contact with them even with the electronic link.

There are also some more distant cousins. They often flood my site with sort of mindless blathering and soliciting me to interact with 3rd party sites / games / etc.

Finally, two of my brothers have chosen the site to post political links or commentary that I'd rather not hear on Facebook.

So for these reasons, de-friending (if it also means unsubscribing) would be a good candidate for word of the year.

Monica Hesse: Hmmm. I believe that unfriending/defriending refer to the act of removing specific people. What's a good word for dropping off of Facebook entirely?

But as for your larger point: Is there anyone on Facebook you enjoy keeping in touch with? If there is, then what you need to do is up your filters for the crazy cousins, so that they only info that gets through is info you want to see.

If you truly don't enjoy anyone's postings, then the answer isn't to quit -- it's just to stop going to the site. You can maintain your account but be inactive, and that way if you ever *need* to get in touch with family (emergencies, celebratory announcements), you already have them all at your fingertips.


Reston, Va.: I found the article about people surfing porn in public to be interesting. I'm going to guess that adult video stores would not be allowed to go all Times Square and broadcast the latest releases on television screens outside of their building. If they aren't permitted to display porn in public, why wouldn't the same rules apply to people in public places? Publicly, a whole new lewdness : Everywhere you look, porn is suddenly inescapable

Monica Hesse: The question is whether a private screen in a public place becomes a public screen. Broadcasting your viewing proclivities on the side of a building isn't exactly the same as someone catching a glimpse of Debbie Does Dallas on your laptop. I'm sure there are municipalities with regulations on this...but I bet they're tricky to enforce.


How can a word be chosen when the year is only 11.5/12ths completed?: Actually, the year 2009 is only 10 and 5/12ths completed.

Monica Hesse: Touche, Poindexter.


Rockville: I would vote for "defriend" and people could have fun with it.

Monica Hesse: So, more fun than "unfriend"?


Best comedy podcast: Answer Me This, without a doubt. Two funny, nerdy 20-something Brits answer odd questions submitted by listeners. Rude, and hilarious.

Monica Hesse: Thanks! We'll always interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcasting for a good site or podcast recommendation.


Rockville, MD: "Hey Cupcake : How can a word be chosen when the year is only 11.5/12ths completed? "

The year is only 10.5/12ths completed. Since we are IN November, only 10 months are completed.

Monica Hesse: Touche, Urkel.

(I've run out of geeky math nicknames, so if anyone else has a problem with this latest addendum to the ratio of months/year completion, you're going to have to supply your own.)


"Unfriend" vs. "Defriend": I always thought it was "Defriend," too. Could this be one of those classic English vs. American word difference things?

Lift = Elevator Loo = Bathroom Row = Fight Unfriend = Defriend

Monica Hesse: This post was especially entertaining when I first read it and saw:

Elevator Loo = Bathroom Row.

Lost a good 7 seconds there, imagining an elevator with its own bathroom.


The Windy City: The thing with dictionary people, they're not exactly leading edge. For them to crown a Facebook term as word of the year must mean Facebook has become totally last year. Like what happened to miniskirts when moms started wearing them.

So what's Facebook to do? Worldwide ebb for Facebook : Now that everybody and his mother is on the site, is it time to look for the next big thing in social networking?

Monica Hesse: I did a story a few months back that looked at that question -- Is Facebook over?

Short answer: I think it's not, it's just that we've become comfortable enough to use it only when we need it, rather than obsessively spend hours every day stalking old acquaintances.

But as for what comes next after Facebook, I don't know and neither did any of the "experts" I interviewed. Web popularity usually swells from the ground up, so when *you* find out...


In defense of unfriend: I have seen this used at least once. It was in the email from my nephew giving me a heads up that he was going to unfriend me in Facebook.

Monica Hesse: Ouch. Did he give a reason? Did he say goodbye?


Public Porn: "I'm sure there are municipalities with regulations on this...but I bet they're tricky to enforce. "

Already heard of regulations on in-car DVD players. People have been stopped by police for watching porn. Imagine one night being stuck behind a SUV with a rear-seat ceiling-mounted DVD player. Everything is dark but you can clearly see the screen. Nice!!!

Monica Hesse: Yep -- these laws were mentioned in the piece. Several states, including Tennessee and Oklahoma, I believe, tried to get variations of this law on the books.

As for "imagining" the experience, I don't have to. Dude, where do you think my story ideas come from?


I just made it up: Is it famous yet?

Dropped off Facebook is "Doing an About Face."

Monica Hesse: Hahahahahhaaa.

Not famous, but excellent headline. Let's save it until we figure out what the article is about.


Elevator Loo: Elevator Loo = Bathroom Column

Elevator's don't go side-to-side.

Monica Hesse: Maybe elevators with bathrooms do.


An Unfriend of an Unfriend: My choice for the verb would be "defriend." I would use "unfriend" for the person whom I defriended, sort of like an uncola.

Monica Hesse: Someone you like only a little, are they diet friends?


Facebook Hide: For Denver who doesn't want to see his brother's political stuff, there is a "Hide" button that will appear in Facebook if you scroll over a person's most recent posting. It appears in the upper right hand corner.

If you click on the hide button, you can hide all posts from the offending parties and still remain friends with them. Likewise, one can hide all game like posts such as Farmville or Mafia Wars from all your contacts.

And incidentally, you defriend, not unfriend. But either way, Denver can remain on FB and friends with his brothers.

Monica Hesse: Thankee.


Hey Cupcake, : did you see the video on CNN yesterday of the goats trying to board a bus?

That' some funny stuff!

Also, is there a consolidated list of current "viral" videos on youtube?

Someplace I can check out what everyone else is watching and talking about so I'm not left in the dark/so O don't send someone a video that they consider "ofn."

Monica Hesse: Oh man, I feel bad for the goats like I feel bad for the Trix Rabbit. Just let them on the bus! You don't know what it's like, being a goat!

As for your second question, here's a site I like:

It lists the current top viral videos by page views, tells you when they entered the scene, and then charts their relative popularity. A good resource to make sure the hysterical new video you're about to forward isn't actually from 2006.


The word (phrase) for 2009...: ...should be "going rogue." Unless you prefer "teabagger," of course!

Monica Hesse: Eh, going rogue is too soon, I think. I could get behind teabagger.


Urkel to Poindexter: "Actually, the year 2009 is only 10 and 5/12ths completed."

Hey Poindexter! Your math is wrong. 10 and 5/12ths means 10 years and 5/12 of a year (or 125 months).

Man, you give us math geeks a bad name. Turn in your pocket protector.

Monica Hesse: Wait, is this the original Urkel? Or a new nerd? People, I told you to provide your own names.


Just call me Poindexter: Here's a word I made up a few years ago:

You know those automobile tire rims that continued to roll, even though the vehicle is actually stopped? I call them Scoobies, as they remind me of when Scooby Doo is trying to run but remains motionless in the air for several seconds before he actually goes.

Monica Hesse: Oh, I love this. My only protest is that Scoobies is an awesome word to say, and these tire rims aren't prevalent enough to let us say it often enough.

(Side note: I was on a bus once where this guy and his wife talked in baby talk for three hours straight. He kept asking her if she wanted more Scooby Snacks, which was their private word for Oreos. It was grosser than porn in public).


Southern Maryland: Regarding last Thursday's piece about public transportation, there's no question about the rudeness of watching porn in that environment. However, my interest is in unpacking the cultural assumptions involved. Leaving the possible exposure to children out of the equation for a second, what are the reasons someone might be personally offended by porn? Do they see the material as turning people into sex objects? Do they worry that they might be turned on by the material?

I'm not arguing that people shouldn't be offended by porn. I'm simply attempting some amateur sociology and anthropology. I take the same approach with four-letter words - while I wouldn't use them on a crowded Metro train out of respect to others, I find it strange that cultures have objectionable words in the first place.

Monica Hesse: I'll get lost in the weeds if I try to type out a thoughtful response to this thoughtful question, and still keep the chat flowing. But I'm throwing it out to everyone else to see what you think. Is this simply the American puritanism we hear so much about -- the knee jerk reaction we have to sex, but not violence?

And if you're asking about objections to porn in general, not just porn in public, then there aren't enough chats in the world to cover this debate, though the answer is All Of The Above. Some people think it objectifies, some people think it's cheating. If you can think of a reason to object to porn, it's probably been raised.


Silver Spring, Md.: Amazon Prime: yea or nay?

Monica Hesse: I don't order enough stuff to make it work. Anyone out there use this feature?


Tire rims that spin: Uh...those have a name. They're spinners.

Monica Hesse: No. They're Scoobies.


Urkel here: "Monica Hesse: Wait, is this the original Urkel? Or a new nerd? People, I told you to provide your own names. "

Yes, I am the original Urkel (well, original to this chat - not "original" original).

Monica Hesse: Thank you for the clarification.


Mr. Peabody: The year is 7/8 completed. Did no one learn how to reduce fractions?

Monica Hesse: I...I...I think he's right. 10.5/12 = 21/24 = 7/8.

By the way, I just realized that "Mr. Wizard" is still available. If someone else would like to ring into this debate, they can be Mr. Wizard.


In defense of unfriend (take 2): "In defense of unfriend: I have seen this used at least once. It was in the email from my nephew giving me a heads up that he was going to unfriend me in Facebook.

Monica Hesse: Ouch. Did he give a reason? Did he say goodbye?"

No reason given. I assume he didn't want his stodgy old uncle seeing what is he is saying to his friends. Actually, in my own mind I'm not at all stodgy; but what do I know?

He said he would keep in touch via email...still waiting.....

Monica Hesse: Ah well. Youngins. At least he gave you a heads up.


Secondhand [something]: I try not to be an offender, but I sometimes catch up on premium cable shows on my iPod. In particular, I'm making my way through the entire run of "Weeds" that way -- each episode is just the right length for my Metro commute, and sometimes I'm too tired to read on the evening ride home. But "Weeds," "Entourage," and others often have scenes that are more explicit than I would like other commuters to notice. My solution is to cup my hands closely around the screen so other riders don't think I'm one of "those" people. (I've had to do something similar while watching R-rated movies on my iPod during long flights.)

BTW, I'm with you on "defriend." I think it conveys an active verb better than "unfriend."

Monica Hesse: A few people worried they might be unintentional offenders, for watching exactly the kind of material you describe. I absolve you -- your viewing sounds discreet and unobtrusive. Except that you do realize that this cupping of the screen just makes your seatmates even more curious...


Political Links: If I can't put my opinions of washingtonpost political stories on facebook for my friends to read, who can I turn to, the Comment Section? Ridiculous. With the person (at least in my case) comes the politics (I'm a five year Hill staffer) know damn well what you're getting into.

Monica Hesse: This is for the Denver guy who didn't like seeing his family's politics splayed out on Facebook. But I didn't read it as him wanting them to stop posting, just as him saying that if they had the right to post, he had the right to not read.


English to English: Don't forget that miles are called kilometers and botulism is called steak and kidney pie!

Monica Hesse: Ha!


Washington, DC: "Defriend" is the standard on almost every social networking site besides Twitter (there it's follow/unfollow). OED messed this one up.

Monica Hesse: Wonder if they've gotten complaints. I'll make a call.


Reston, Va: Is it possible to even have friends in cyberspace?

Instead of defriend or unfriend (which imply a friend existed), what about "whoops a daisy".... to keep the delinking, well, friendly sounding.

Monica Hesse: Now now. Spoken like someone who has either never embedded themselves in an online community, or is five levels too philosophical for this chat.


Rockville: " What's a good word for dropping off of Facebook entirely?"


I tried it but never got off the ground.

It is a one step process to get off.

Monica Hesse: Pfffft.


Rockville: What can you do when even Oprah says porn is mainstream and one in three viewers is a woman?

Monica Hesse: I dunno. Wonder what's stored on Oprah's TiVo?


Anonymousville: I'd be terrified of being an offender, especially on an airplane flight where I'm going to have to sit next to the person who saw it for the next three hours.

This is why I keep my laptop off on plane flights, and read books instead, which can be delightfully salacious and no one is the wiser.

Monica Hesse: Stephenie-cough-Meyer.


Amazon Prime - oh yeah: Love this feature. I do most of my shopping online and always start with Amazon. Prime status is totally worth the fee.

Monica Hesse: Wrapping up a few stragglers -- here's one pro-Amazon Prime user.


Urkel again: "Mr. Peabody: The year is 7/8 completed. Did no one learn how to reduce fractions?"

Today, November 18th, the year is 322/365 over (well, as of the end of the day). Given this chat started at 1pm ET, it began 7715/8760 (based on hours) through the year.

Of course, when did the consideration of the new word start and end - not to mention be announced.

I think the only safe thing to say is "The year is not yet over. How dare they coin a new word so prematurely!"

Monica Hesse: We have reached a level of ridiculousness that cannot be matched, either in the remainder of this chat or the remainder of the year. Let's quit while we're either ahead or behind -- but please send any nominations for words of the year to If we have any good ones, I'll post them next time.

And remember that next time isn't next week, it's two weeks from now, when we'll also share our favorite shopping sites. If anyone has a good word for that (shoptacular is pretty lame), send that, too.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, all. Spend lots of time online, and come back with treats for everyone.


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