Originally published on JRR Tolkien Examiner on 11/17/09.
The editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary have chosen “unfriend” as its “2009 Word of the Year,” beating out other Internet-oriented neologisms such as “hashtag,” “netbook,” “paywall” and “sexting.”
However, Tolkien aficionados may remember the word from The Silmarillion, where it is used twice (once in the form “unfriendship”). From page 70:
Now the Green-elves of Ossiriand were troubled by the coming of Men, and when they heard that a lord of the Eldar fromover the Sea was among them they sent messengers to Felagund. ‘Lord,’ they said, ‘if you have power over these newcomers, bid them return by the ways that they came, or else to go forward. For we desire no strangers in this land to break the peace in which we live. And these folk are hewers of trees and hunters of beasts; therefore we are their unfriends, and if they will not depart we shall afflict them in all ways that we can.’ …
Soon after the departure of Felagund the other Men of whom Bëor had spoken came also into Beleriand. First came the Haladin; but meeting the unfriendship of the Green-elves they turned north and dwelt in Thargelion, in the country of Caranthir son of Fëanor; there for a time they had peace, and the people of Caranthir paid little heed to them.
Here the word seems to be used to describe someone who is not a friend, but also not an enemy — unwelcome, but not someone the Elves felt any need to actively oppose, unless the Men insisted on staying in their realm.
“Unfriend” is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, of which Tolkien was an editor of the first edition. Dating from 1275, the word appears to mean “enemy,” and was used chiefly in Scotland.
If anyone knows more about this word’s etymology and its use in Tolkien’s work; or has access to the OED and can quote the entry for “unfriend,” please comment below or contact the author. Thank you.