Editorial note: Bon Mot is an occasional column by Culture Wharf contributor and UC Berkeley vocabularist Jacob Mushin that focuses on the relationship between emerging pop-culture vocabulary and the social trends they reflect.
I opened the Boston Globe sports page this morning and read that the Jets are the Patriots are “football frenemies”, outlining the AFC-playoff picture that has New England fans pulling for New York this weekend (Root Canal).
Frenemy is not however, according to the red underline on my computer as I write this, an actual word in the dictionary.
But it is a word in the hallowed tome that is the Urban Dictionary and has notched itself a few pieces of high profile pop-culture. including Sex and the City and The Colbert Report. The word is now used in journalistic prose, not exactly with regularity, but without explanation – another sign that it has entered the public’s vocabulary.
The word Bromance occupies a similar space in today’s landscape of emerging vocabulary. “Bromance,” referring to the “complicated love and affection shared by two straight males” (Urban Dictionary) will be the title of a new MTV reality show featuring bro-dating for dudes and starring The Hill’s Brody Jenner. Bromance, like Frenemy, has also seen increasing use in print in recent years Here’s to ‘bromance’
Try a Google News search for each term to gauge the current level of journalistic and pop-culture usage.
No longer a joke, but not quite real words, these two linguistic anomalies persist because they capture something in a single word that used to require a paragraph’s explanation: “well she’s kind of my friend but there’s a long history there, I mean we used to be really close like freshman year but then she started dating my ex and I was like ‘I’m not going to be your friend anymore you slut’ but then we were sort of part of the same group so we keep up the appearance of friendship for social reasons.”
Frenemy says it all in one.
Language is always evolving to more accurately represent reality. The more complex and intensely social reality human beings now occupy demands succinct conceptualizations for heretofore un-baptized social phenomena.
So perhaps frenemy and bromance aren’t headed to Merriam and Webster’s dictionary just yet, but the social relationships they represent aren’t likely to dissapear anytime soon.