Friend

Such a small yet important word. Where would we be, how lonely a life, without friendship!

But where does it come from? This is a simple question to answer, because it is one of those words that have changed in meaning very little over the centuries. “Friend” comes to us from Middle English frende or freond, which came from Old English freond, meaning, of course, “friend”. As you can see, the form changed very little in that time. If we examine it a little closer, we will see that it is from Proto-Germanic root *frijondz, meaning “friend”, itself thought to be from the verb *frijojanan, which meant “to love”. Going back one step further, we come to the Proto-Indo-European root *pri- or *prei-, meaning “to like, to love”.

If we take this to its logical conclusion, we find that the word “Friday” is in fact a cognate, a distant cousin, of “friend.” Friday is named for the Norse goddess Frigg or Frigga, whose name means “love” and derives from the same root.

Intriguingly, we see something similar happening in a number of other European languages. The Greek word for “friend” is φίλος (filos), which derives from the word φιλέω (fileo), which meant “to love”. Similarly, we see the Latin amor, amare (love, noun and verb) giving rise to amico in Italian, ami in French, amigo in Spanish, amigo in Portuguese.

Not only that, but if we look at the Slavic family of languages, we will see something very interesting. In Czech, the word for “friend” is přítel, in Slovak we find priateľ, in Polish it is przyjaciel, in Croatian príjatelj, and in Slovenian it is very similar (note the accents); prijátelj. All these words are clearly from the same source, and this is the intriguing part. They derive from the Proto-Slavic word *prijati, which, as I am sure you have guessed by now, is from Proto-Indo-European root *prei. This makes them ultimately cognates of the English word “friend”!

2 thoughts on “Friend

  1. Although obviously not a Slavic language but rather a Romance one influenced by Slavic speaking countries in its geographic vicinity, Romanian also has its word for ‘friend’ prieten derived from Proto-Slavic *prijateljь

    All the descendants of Proto-Slavic *prijateljь are listed here:

    East Slavic:
    Belarusian: прыяцель (pryjácelʹ)
    Russian: приятель (prijátelʹ)
    Ukrainian: приятель (pryjátelʹ)

    South Slavic:
    Bulgarian: приятел (prijátel)
    Macedonian: приятел (príjatel)
    Serbo-Croatian: Cyrillic: при̏јатељ (Latin) prȉjatelj
    Slovene: prijatelj

    West Slavic:
    Czech: přítel
    Polish: przyjaciel
    Slovak: priateľ
    Sorbian: Lower Sorbian: pśijaśel

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