Oxford's word of the year? 'Unfriend'

The ubiquitous Digital Age insult, brought into the mainstream with the rise of Facebook, is the dictionary's top term of 2009.

Perhaps in a sign of how the plague of social media has numbed us all to the value of legitimate human connections, the New Oxford American Dictionary has picked the verb "unfriend," or "to remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook," as its 2009 Word of the Year.

At the very least, it's a testament to the ubiquity of Facebook, which now has well over 300 million members around the world .

Facebook itself takes the process of "friending" and "unfriending" very seriously. It once sent warning notes to players of a third-party game called PackRat because it encouraged players to amass huge friends lists (good heavens! they're polluting the social graph!), banned a Burger King ad campaign that let members "sacrifice" their friends to get a free cheeseburger ("Friendship is strong, but the Whopper is stronger"), and still puts a cap of 5,000 on personal profiles' friends lists .

Last year's Oxford word of the year was the decidedly less mainstream "hypermiling."

A correction was made at 9:25 a.m. PT on November 21. It was players of PackRat, not PackRat itself, that were threatened with account suspension.

About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.


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