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Posted on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 : 9:16 a.m.

Friendship: Just a social bond? It's healthy, too!

By Wayne Baker

0225ov Friend frequency 1800 to 2008.jpg
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Making friends might be making a come-back in the last few years, and not just on Facebook.

I love this Google tool: the n-gram viewer, shown above today. The n-gram charts how frequently any word is used in the entire body of books Google has in its library over any period of time you select.

In this chart, I plugged in “friend” in American English from 1800 to 2008—and you can see how the word goes through a century-and-a-half decline from 1830 to 1980.

But since 1980? The use of “friend” is on an upward trend.

What about other forms of the word? I charted an n-gram of the word “friendship,” but that line is static, making me wonder whether this is a Facebook phenomenon—where “friend” is a much more popular word.

Or, something else might be at work. The 1980s saw the hit Thomas & Friends TV series for children—and the 1990s saw the Friends TV series for adults. Both series generated related books.

But, what can you envision in this n-gram chart, above?

Add a comment below.

And, Facebook? What about Facebook’s impact on “friend,” “friending”—and actual friendship—since its debut in 2004? Despite all the hand-wringing out there about how people are using technology to avoid real social connections, research shows otherwise.

In 2011, a Pew Research Center report (cited in an Our Values column in June 2011) found that Facebook users have more close relationships and stronger social connections. Instead of undermining real friendship, social networking tools apparently help users deepen their ties with each other.

Friendship is not a trivial matter. The Mayo Clinic says friendship can help reduce stress, boost happiness, promote recovery from trauma and encourage healthier lifestyles.

So how about it? Why can't we be friends?

How has friendship changed for you over the decades?

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.



Mon, Feb 25, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

At the age of 50, and still learning I have many many many aquaintences. Friends? I can count on my 10 fingers people I consider deserve the privledge of that title. These are people I know I can trust, rely on, tell my deepest secrets, will help me out when times are tough, do not judge me, respect my limits, respect my privacy, pay back loans without me having to ask, and will not give me a line of bull if they can not pay back timely. I get the truth. I also give them the same respect in return for everything I have mentioned and more. Friends are few and far between the amount of people I have met in my life. Friends are deep. To deep to even consider anyone on a social network a friend. Way to deep to ever call a co-worker a friend. I have aquaintences all over the place, and continue to meet them as life goes on. Every once in a while I will meet someone who becomes a friend. I have yet to meet anyone through google, facebook, AOL, or the likes that I can call a friend. The word "friend" is not to be taken lightly.


Mon, Feb 25, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

Those of us who watch My Little Pony know that Friendship is Magic. When you combine kindness, generosity, honesty, laughter, and loyalty with the spark of friendship, it creates the most powerful magic in all of Equestria, which may even cause you to sprout wings and become a princess..