I'm not making a run for William Safire's job. And I'm not as anal as my pickiness about language might make me seem. But, it should by now be clear that imprecise language bothers me, and hyperbolic relationship descriptions are a particular pet peeve.
Today I was struck by the ubiquitousness of the overly-friendly issue again when I received a message from Facebook. I just signed up for Facebook recently (to get some background on a potential nanny candidate) so this was the first 'Friend request' I had received. I was amused by the language of the email:
"Laurie added you as a friend on Facebook. We need you to confirm that you are, in fact, friends with Laurie."
That doesn't seem quite accurate. What they "need" to do (I would suggest that this is what they "want" to do, but that's not my main linguistic beef here) is to confirm that I want Laurie on my Facebook Friends list.
I spent a bit of time cruising around the Facebook website, and it's quite clear that many people's "Friends" lists are populated with people who aren't exactly friends. Perhaps associates. Colleagues. Acquaintances. People you may want to have as a friend, be employed by, sleep with. All legitimate relationship types, but none I would categorize as 'friends'. Many of these clarifications are available on the follow-on page where you can detail the relationship further - after you accept the general premise that "you are, in fact, friends."
While I'm not thrilled with the imprecision of the "Friends" list, I understand the constraints of presentation on a website and that simplicity often trumps accuracy. But I can't help but think that the umbrella of friendship in Facebook's universe hearkens back to the overused "BFF" (best friends forever) in a high school yearbook.
(side note... after reading this post, Ryan pointed me to a WSJ article that is more expansive in its discussion of this issue...)