Unfriending just got formal recognition – The new Oxford American Dictionary has announced it as the word of the year. For the uninitiated,
unfriend – verb – To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.
Although the word may be new, as a concept ‘unfriending’ is not something new, at least not to those who grew up in India. The Tamil word for it is ‘Kaa’. Children unfriend each other by simply telling them ‘I am Kaa with you. You are not my friend anymore.’ I think Hindi-speaking children use “katti’ for this. Kaa or katti is the most dreaded word I remember from my childhood. Imagine your best friend or a group of classmates declaring ‘kaa’ on you. It is the children's version of imposing sanctions - they won’t speak to you and you cannot play with them, share crayons or books or snacks and you are left out of all their secrets. For me and my friends there was no fate worse than being told ‘kaa’ by one’s best friend. It was the end of the world.

In primary school, breaking news usually took the form of hushed whispers about who was ‘Kaa’ with whom. And we had to choose our loyalties and keep to that side. Fence sitters were disowned by both groups. If our friend was ‘Kaa’ with another girl, the entire group was ‘kaa’ with her. It did not matter that we were not part of the fight. What mattered was loyalty and at that age friends ranked a notch above family, society and nation. If any girl violated this code and had any dealings with the other camp she was promptly unfriended too.
Sometimes unfriending was the result of a personal quarrel or the fact that a girl was ‘too proud’ or if she refused to share something with you. At other times it was a group decision because the subject had offended someone in the group. Once in the 5th standard we had unfriended a girl who happened to be the niece of one of our teachers. After a few weeks of this, the girl could not stand it and went crying to her aunt about our ‘meanness’ and so the teacher instituted an inquiry. She called each one of us and asked us why we had unfriended her niece and none of us knew why. Someone in our group had unfriended her and so we all had. And even the girl who had started it had forgotten the reason by this time! So we were all given a lecture on our shameful behavior and asked to ceremoniously ‘refriend’ the girl by shaking hands. We still continued to unfriend whenever the situation demanded it but were careful not to get caught.

‘unfriending’ through “kaa’ was left behind as childhood ended and adult life began. In adult life friends stayed on in your life no matter what. You quarreled, stopped talking but then ran to their side the moment you heard they were in trouble. They did the same too. And then came the internet and changed the whole meaning of friendship.
You meet people in a chatroom or leave a comment on their blog and the next thing you know there is a request from them to add you on Gchat or yahoo chat. You are confused but you accept the invitation anyway. They want to chat with you every time you are online, send you jokes, event notifications, cute forwards, discussion threads from them and their friends as you are part of their group mailing list. And then one day they stop. Just. like.that. And they become invisible on chat too. I have never figured out why I keep getting thrown out of these groups. While I’d have been perfectly happy if they hadn’t made me part of their group, it hurts just a little bit when they suddenly decide to unfriend without so much as a goodbye as memories of childhood "kaa' come flooding! When I wondered about this to a young friend he said that it is very normal among friendships in the virtual world which tend to die down fast. People move on, they lose interest and form other groups and it has nothing to do with me personally.
I was not totally convinced and he forwarded me this article
In dec 2008, Burger king offered free whoppers to people who unfriended 10 of their friends on facebook and thousands were willing to grab the offer. As this article pointed out
At a suggested retail price of $3.69 for the Angry Whopper sandwich, customers are trading each deleted friend for about 37 cents’ worth of bun and beef.

I asked someone the other day if X was her friend. She said, 'hmm, ya but not a friend-friend but just a facebook friend."
Friend – there was a time when this word invoked images of undying loyalty, true understanding an unconditional acceptance. Friendship once ranked at the top of the relationship chain as the most enduring value immortalized in stories such as those of Damon and Pythius, Duryodhan and Karna, Krishna and Arjuna. It seemed that a friend would be that person whom you could turn to when everything else is lost. I wonder if such friendships are ever possible on such social networking sites. Perhaps it is time they found another word for a facebook acquaintance rather than devaluing the sanctity of the word friend – how about the term Facebooker? Then you can become friends by facebooking and ‘unbook’ them when you lose interest.
Or is unfriending here to stay as a sign of our times?
39 Responses
  1. apu Says:

    Usha-ji, very nice post. I was immediately reminded of all the silly reasons we said 'kaa' to one another (It also had to be accompanied by showing your thumb to the other person, for reasons unknown!)

    Now, in this age of FB, true, "friend" has come to mean something else altogether....

  2. Usha,

    A post after my heart !

    Technology should aid. Instead , here technology has been changing the entire DNA of what was once, good , honest-to-goodness friendship, with the katti, and batti (opp of katti , in Marathi)...

    Why dont they leave "friend" alone ? And what gives anyone to the right to introduce words and even dictate associations with software and sites ?

    "facehooker" is a more apt description of whats happening there. Friendship is now face deep.

    Unfriend, indeed. Hmmm.

  3. aargee Says:

    So true. recently I came across a guy who kept sending me friendship fwds, though I hardly knew him. I just laughed and said " yeh kuchch zyadha nahi ho gaya".... It is true that, friendship is taking a new(weird) meaning now.

  4. maami Says:

    wow hwo to make and lose friends over facebook nu book ezhudalaam pola iruke!

  5. Arpita Says:

    Nice post :)
    I agree that these networking sites are just too casual and impersonal. They seem to give one the feeling of being in touch with people just becoz names and activities seem to buzz and hover all around.. but this mere sense of knowing what someones upto doesnt add up to friendship for me somehow. Instead it seems almost intrusive and voyeuristic...

    I find more people happy with the initial high of knowing someone and then moving on when things get familiar... too reminiscent of the current nature of things. Friendship or companionship seems to become a commodity for short-term consumption.

  6. Artnavy Says:

    i read this word in The hindu today

    nice post...

    i have told anush to ask the sayer of "kaa" if they are a crow and laugh it off....since she got hurt once when some child said it to her....

  7. Indy Says:

    Haha! loved this as it brought back sweet memories of my katti-batti days! :)

  8. Praveen Says:

    Most of them don't even know the people they have added on their list.
    To me Facebook is just a networking tool. I don't need it to stay in touch with people who matter.

    Most of us have lost the ability to make and nurture genuine friendships. I see it mostly with the teens.

  9. Raj Says:

    Wasn't re-friending called "pazham'?

  10. CK Says:

    Hi there,

    I'm a first time reader of your blog. Nice post and extremely well-written. :) It's kind of tough to find really articulate blogs. I'll keep an eye on yours.


  11. preetika Says:

    hi!nice post...just wanted to say that i was on fb for a pretty long time and then one day just left it...i'm not really against sites like's just that after some time one realises that the virtual world rakes over our lives in such a big way that we forget the real world and real least it happened in my case!And i didn't want it to take over my life!

    I just found it so hard to absorb the fact that ppl who hadn't bothered about finding out about me or keeping in touch with me for years...just suddenly found me on fb and then expected me to behave and share everything happening in my life with them as if we were the bestest of frens years back...when the reality is that we hardly even said a hi at that time!

    There is a certain shallowness in the kind of friendships forged on sites like fb and yes "unfriending" is just a proof of the same!

  12. WhatsInAName Says:

    A very very apt post for current times and generation. Yes, I really miss those days of kaa and doo! I had very similar experiences of groups and yes loyalty was for keeps :)
    Online friendship is a new concept altogether. Its age of fast food, fast cars and fast friendship. for some it works. For loyalists like us, it doesn't :) so I don't even try to venture into these forums.

  13. R's Mom Says:

    What a lovely post...we used to go 'katti' every 3 days and talk to each other dime a dozen after that...the innocence of childhood!!! Infact 'Unfriend' ...I havent heard that earlier..thanks for increasing the IQ here :)

  14. Sraboney Says:

    Reading about katti brought back memories...

    Even though the word 'unfriend' has now officially become a part of the lexicon, it will always remain a crude term to me...

  15. Usha Says:

    apu: And we said 'pazham' and refirneded to just as easily no?

    Suranga: you said it all so beautifully! Facehooking indeed it is!

    aargee:I have some friendship requests pending and one is from a 16 year old. It is weird sometimes!

    maami:amam you can make, unmake, lose, unlose ellam mudiyum.

    arpita:I know someone who makes friends just so that they can visit her, see her fancy statuses every moment of the day and even fancier pictures. it seems that they plan a trip to bermuda just to post some pics on facebook.
    When she finds that someone like me is not interested in her glam life, she loses interest in me. Nor have I similar details to offer. So there is no value in being my friend. There seems to be a popularity contest too based on how many friends you have on fb.

    Art: I can't believe that kaa has survived to this day! and why woudl anyone want to say kaa to the sweetest little girl - very bad indeed. Now I am kaa with that person.

    Indy: They were lovely days no!

    praveen:I guess they just click on confirm without bothering to check if they have anything in common because they know they can always 'unfriend' later.

    raj: yes. It was indeed pazham.

    CK:Welcome and thanks!

    Preethika: I know what you mean and I feel exactly the same.
    And this attitude is precisely why I am reluctant to post intimate details of my life on a site like that.

    WIAN:Yes I forgot all about "Doo"
    True this is an age of fast relationships.

    R's mom: we used to go kaa and pazham many times during the same day!

    Sraboney: It does seem a bad word.

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  18. How could you forget the term to 'refriend':Kaa X Pazham :)
    I think soon we would have 'i-saga' stories where people sacrifice by deleting their accounts for friends and are immortalized :D
    1)'Care-na' plays mafia wars for 'Door-yo-dhana' and makes him win the battle.
    2)'Python'ius's internet connection goes for a toss and he logs back just in time to save 'Daemon'.
    3)'V' and 'J' have only one account and J never tells the truth till the last.

    *Names have been changed to protect privacy

  19. Kaa is "Too" in Kannada. Its done with your index finger crossed.
    Yes ... with these social networking sites, the term "Friend" is being used very loosely me thinks. The essence of friendship is totally lost. Somehow calling them "Buddies" seems a better option to me than friends.
    The term Unfriend sounds very very unfriendly ... no?

    Btw, there is a lovely old kannada song "Too Too Too ... bedappa" ... since you do understand the language, you may want to listen to it.

  20. Garima Says:

    Very intresting.. very relatable esp when you say "Facebook friend". Time and again my husband would ask me if i know XYZ..and i say.. well not exactly, i mean they are on my FB. But that's it. He coyly asks.. so you do know her. And i reply.. well sorta, kinda.. Well he is on my friend's list

    Techonology is changing a lot of parameters of how you view relationships!

    With time there will be firendhip group.. for the secrets.. etc.. so basically.. the real friends!!!

  21. Anonymous Says:

    I dreaded that childhood unfriending too! Children can be cruel :)

    I think language evolves and grows and changes all the time. If it doesn't than we have to make laws to make sure it is learnt. Now Friend has one more meaning :)

  22. S.V. Says:

    There we just touched upon another thing we usually dare not talk about - katti friends. I remember I had a katti friend in school who didnt speak with me for 7 years just bcoz we weere katti once long back, over a very trivial issue.

    Eventually, I managed to befreiend him again but the incidence provides for a thought provoking story. Especially since either of us were skeptical of approaching each other...lolz

  23. Sue Says:

    In Bengali, the word is "kari" and yes, it was a very powerful tool.

    You know what is annoying than being virtually dropped? Virtually kept. I have people on my list who haven't contacted me since they added me, who don't read me or in any way intereact with me. But if I delete them because I like my FB list to consist of my friends only (as opposed to friendly acquaintances) then they go all hyper on me. Gah.

  24. shoba Says:

    I had written a post in a lighter note on the same subject.

    Your post reminded me of my school "friends" and "enemies" who were the same set of people. :-) The moment someone was "Kaa"-ed, rather, unfriended, they became the "enemies", ultimately reverting back to "friends" after the Maths teacher forced us to shake hands, scaring us with a stick in his hand.. LOL..

    I know people who have zillions of friends in facebook and have never understood it.I always make a very clear distinction between a "Friend" and an "Acquaintance". My FB friends are very few, which I joined only last month btw, and they are limited to my school mates, college mates and ex-colleagues with who I want to be in touch with.
    You would think one might prefer face-to-face friends than facebook friends.

  25. Very Nostalgic post Usha. In kannada we say 'Too' and this is done by crossing index and middle finger. Many a times, I remember we as a group of friends used to go convince the person in question to reconsider to enable the friendship with the other. No matter whether it was 2nd or 8th standard, if two people were not talking on serious terms it used to be talk of the class.
    Escalations went upto to class teachers at times and even the teachers were genuinely interested to resolve the conflicts.
    FB, Orkut and these social networking sites works well, when you have your sister/neice/uncles at other countries, every other ritual happens over internet and all your updates are reflected in these sites as your twitter update.
    Recently, my collegue was asking why didn't I celebrate my son's birthday by throwing a huge party, I wondered how did she come to know about it and then realized my scrapbook which had wishes from another friend.
    On the other hand, I have some real good friends through blog and I am happy to get them, we often talk over phone or meet than actual blogging etc.,
    Days are changing but I guess even our children will start telling the same stories which we had in our school days and that will also enable us to recall .. in similar way we do by reading your posts.
    Keep well.

  26. diya Says:

    Usha, I choose to see the brighter side of social networking...I am in touch with my long lost friends and we even plan meetings thru fb eg I learnt just today that 2 of my schools pals will be in Cal when I am visiting in December. It is lovely to see old friends again..have our children interact..wish them happy birthday (with the help of the fb reminder)! I feel so young and excited again!! I am friend's with my friend's child with my little nieces and nephews and with gives me immense happiness to be just a click away from these people. In Blogosphere I have made friends like you and 2b's mom...whom I like to read and share my thoughts with. I think the internet has revived friendship. "Kaa" exists still (being used by my daughter with a vengeance), so let 'unfriend' exist will not affect real friendships as 'kaa' has not affected friendshps for so long a time!

  27. Anonymous Says:

    Whatever the benefits of social networking sites are, still using the term 'friend' for every known or unknown person on your list of pals isn't a convenient usage.

  28. I'm here on whatsinaname's suggestion. A very interesting post. brought a smile on my face..I am of the recent unfriended victims and so I'm kaa with all the networking sites.

  29. Hip Grandma Says:

    I think it is easy to unfriend someone in the facebook or orkut world. you know them through what they choose to write as comments and that's it. The blogworld is different. I wouln't want to unfriend anyone of my contacts through this connection.Even when i haven't commented or recd. any from them they are very real and i find excuses for them. Like I may say, 'with two kids she may not find time' or with the year ending looming large the poor man must be slogging in his office' and so on. I hope none of them unfriend me in a real way! Having said that I must add that katti or kaa was a very bad thing to say and how can one forget that as kids one would say kaa to another person and keep looking at her all the time half expecting and half wanting to patch up without much ado!A half hearted smile would do.Every moral science class would see friends turned foes shaking hands and patching up in front of the teacher!

  30. idle-labour Says:

    I chanced upon this blog through another where it was linked. Must say I thoroughly enjoyed reading your entry and could identify to ALL parts of it. And I agree they should come up with a new term for "friends" in the social networking sites; for this category has little convergence with how we cumulatively understand "friends" since the time we learn understanding relationships.

    Awesome blog!

  31. starry eyed Says:

    Echoing Sue's comment...I wonder why some ppl who can barely talk to me in real life have me on their lists...popularity I suppose (them, not me!)

    CA directed me here...very co-incidentally I blogged abt the Kannada version of kaa and katti...Tu, Tu!

    Liked your blog!

  32. hijabiamma Says:

    Usha-ji, you know my weird views on technology so it wouldn't surprise you I was one of the latter to join FB & myspace. Actually, what happened was that a friend signed me up for it as a prank, and then another friend informed me two years later that she had sent a friend request on Myspace. I immediately knew who the friend was behind the shenanigans and called her up to get the login information. But when I logged in to delete the account I found that six old friends had found me whom I had lost touch with!!

    Some people, they have taken their lives to a whole nuther level, giving out all their information and very personal information in their pressingly frequent status updates... But unlike them I see Facebook as a Utility to keep in touch that transcends lost phones and changed numbers, and live-altering changes such as marriage and moves. I have no friends on FB whom I don't know in real life, and intend to keep it that way.

    I know some people un-friend others, including my husband. But I never understood that anomaly of false-connections.

    I am glad, however, of descriptive rather than prescriptive dictionaries. I also checked the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), my personal favorite, and they have unfriend listed as a noun, verb, and adjective :)

    Excellent post, as always

  33. Sue Says:

    Typo alert: that would be "aari" in Bengali and not "kari". Sorry.

  34. Sue Says:

    Typo alert: that would be "aari" in Bengali and not "kari". Sorry.

  35. jj Says:

    This brought back a lot of fond childhood memories.
    FB friends... except for a handful who I speak to regularly they're friends just on my list. As a mixed blessing my network admn has blocked it. Sad part is friends expected me to know the updates in their lives( mainly marriage updates or coming to my city) through FB alone and I was left clueless with no access. The complaint mails came later on!
    Where are the depth of relationships, forget visiting homes but at least a phone call.
    Guess, I'm a first timer here...lovely blog

  36. Anonymous Says:

    Came here from Maami's blog. Couldn't agree more, but the world of Facebook/Orkut friends is a very different one from the world of real friends. I remember a specific incident that illustrates how the value systems have changed. I was in primary school and walking along to a cricket ground past my good friend's house when I chanced upon three elders who wanted to know where this address was. The address turned out to be my friend's residence and so I told them - "I am his best friend, I'll take you there". I'll never forget their warm response, and this coming from a relatively internet-savvy 28 year old who uses Facebook like its second nature. There's much to be said for friendship and how it once forged alliances between people with many differences. Controlled media on the web these days is taking people apart even as it brings people together. We get a better picture of people quickly and can be more judgmental with them, and the fact that there are more humans now than ever and the relaxation, even absence, of social stigmas associated with friends and acquaintances have led to a cold society. I guess I came to grips with this cold society only during late college.

  37. Reema Says:

    new theme?? very nice! I guess all the social networking as devalued the meaning of friendship.

  38. Usha....loved this post..Reminds me of the time when we had to sign a paper to say that we belong to a X group and we will not talk to girls belonging to Y group..:-)

  39. Katti..doo..kaa. Nostalgia!

    I don't get facebook either. I had recently blogged on it at

    The point is, people are how sharing trivial things that would hardly have warranted a mention in a face-to-face chat before, and people feel compelled to respond!

    "I am going to make Upma" - somehow, this statement evokes 15 responses, I just don't get it! Sigh..