August 3, 2014

Frenemies.

"Actually I soon discovered that a substantial number of names listed in my address book belong in the category of Frenemy, an incredibly useful word that should be in every dictionary, coined by one of my sisters when she was a small child to describe a dull little girl who lived near us," wrote Jessica Mitford in a NYT op-ed in 1977.
My sister and the Frenemy played together constantly, invited each other to tea at least once a week, were inseparable companions, all the time disliking each other heartily.

I wonder whether most of us do not, in fact, spend more time with Frenemies than actual friends or outright enemies? The fringy folk whose proximity, either territorial or work-related, demands the frequent dinner invitation and acceptance of their return hospitality....

But real friends — ah? Who are they? Mostly people, boys and girls whom we knew and laughed with, and loved passionately circa age 20....
But that is not the original usage of the word in print. The columnist Walter Winchell used it in 1953 in the Nevada State Journal — not that Mitford's sister cribbed the coinage — "Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies?"

I got that from the Oxford English Dictionary, where I looked up the word "frenemy" today after seeing it in The Daily Mail. I was reading "Woman, 62, with cancer survives being trapped in car for EIGHT days without food and only rain water after getting lost and stuck in the mud" when I glanced away over into the sidebar and saw "BFFs again? Kim Kardashian shares a laugh with frenemy Paris Hilton in new Instagram snap/Enjoying a laugh together in Ibiza."

Ah! The Daily Mail! Oh, the decline! Let's cleanse our palate with a quaff of the fresh rain water that was journalism in the 1950s:

23 comments:

rhhardin said...

Where was the fake morse code?

As a kid very good at morse code, that was the first lesson not to trust the news media.

Michael K said...

Just about everyone was a "frenemy" of Jessica. A devoted communist and a poor mother. Her book "American Way of Death" was every bit as honest as "Silent Spring" and "Coming of Age in Samoa, both the triumphs of female leftist writers over reality.

rhhardin said...

My friend / my enemy

"The responsibilities and ties signaled by reciprocal possession typically are hard to dissolve. It can be as difficult to give up an enemy as to give up a friend, and often the one becomes the other, as though the logic of the possessive pronoun outlasts the forms it chanced to take at a given moment..."

Vicki Hearne, "What's Wrong with Animal Rights"

averagejoe said...

That Winchell clip reminds me of the great movie The Sweet Smell of Success. I've been told that Burt Lancaster's character was based on Winchell and Tony Curtis's character based on Sidney Skolsky, but that's just gossip for the grist mill.

David said...

Seems to me Winchell would have adapted very well to the modern journalistic world. He was cunning and manipulative. However his was a face made for radio. He'd more likely be a producer not a news reader these days on TV.

Ron said...

"I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic."

Anonymous said...

Frenemies aren't boring as a rule. Is Russia boring? No.

My frenemies all had a certain dark star charisma that made them difficult to give up - even though I knew it was better for me, I'd still sincerely miss them. I wanted to be friends with them - if they would only stop being evil! ;)

It's not just girls either. Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder from "Justified" are classic frenemies.



Fen said...

My first real girlfriend (we were 14) had a frenemy just like that - her friend's mother encouraged the friendship because "she makes my daughter appear prettier in comparison".

Really fucked up people.

Everything was about status. I happened to be the preferred boyfriend for their little princess b/c my family lived in the rich part of town. They were fanatics about getting their daughters into the right sorority (Kappa Kappa Gamma at the time). EVERY SINGLE THING was done for that pledge resume.



She went on to marry an accountant (an exact copy of her father, go figure) and spends her days worrying about getting on the right charity committee and preping her own daughter for the same life.

They ended up wronging me, but I bear them no malice - they have created their own hell.

The Godfather said...

Do guys have frenemies? I really can't think of anyone with whom I have had that kind of relationship. Unless you count kissing up to someone you dislike, but who's higher than you in the pecking order. That's why chapstick is such a big seller in Washington.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

About the woman stuck in the car: I saw footage of the view of the highway overpass from her vehicle. She said she couldn't get anyone's attention from where she was -- but why didn't she just hike up there? I know, wet, cold, steep ... but you'd think that after a few days it would seem like something worth attempting.

mtrobertsattorney said...

So what happened to the kid in the theater?

Carol said...

My frenemies all had a certain dark star charisma that made them difficult to give up

Exactly..I loved the ones who could make me laugh. But it's disturbing to realize they're rather happy when you're down. I even started faking them out, acting like something was Terribly Wrong in my Life, and then pulling the rug out from under 'em. No, I'm doin' great - and you??

Still like to party with them.

richard mcenroe said...

I'm not sure taking a Mitford's insight into human nature is the best idea... that family managed to embrace every political evil the 20th century could come up with possibly excepting worshipping the Emperor of Japan.

Roger Sweeny said...

"'Cause we're frenemies.
We like disliking one another.
Yes, we're frenemies.
He's like my least favorite brother."

From the Phineas and Ferb episode "Lotsa Lotkes."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zivdhfUjVVA

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Yeah, the more you think of things as infinite and "global" as opposed to special to you, with age or not, but hopefully with, the easier it is to wonder why others don't.

What's funny is they have to pay too!

Giggles!!!

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Politics and work produce a lot of for enemies.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

And there is the closely related category of famenies,family enemies. Fortunately, I don't seem to have any of those, but that can really be quite toxic, especially the mother daughter war.

Anonymous said...

Are Hamas and the IDF frenemies? I thought all politics now were based on everyone being frenemies with someone else. No one really hates someone else, not really, it is all kabuki. Cease Fire.

mezzrow said...

The tap dancer was Gene Barry, i think. Anybody here remember Burke's Law and the Rolls Royce?

Do frenemies get a special plan for their various handheld devices? This is the 21st century, after all.

Phil 3:14 said...

Put a fedora on him and Tom Wilkinson could be the spitting image of Walter Winchell.

William said...

Jessica was the saner one. Didn't she have a sister who died young while in Germany with Hitler mourning at her bedside?........Posterity is a bitch. I'm part of the last generation with a living memory of Walter Winchell. When I was a kid, his time had already passed, but he was still around. He was a very big deal and lived long enough to be a nobody. His last years must have been painful, like some gorgeous silent movie star gone to flab and oblivion......If he's remembered at all it will be as the model for the columnist in Sweet Smell of Success. That movie was written by Clifford Odets. He was a wunderkind in the thirties. The critics thought he was a major talent, but his work was mostly commie agitprop. He went to Hollywood and prostituted his talent. If he, Odets, is ever remembered it will be because of this movie......Winchell and Odets achieved monumental failure which is, perhaps, better than no monument at all to mark your gravesite.

SGT Ted said...

When guys don't like each other, they don't socialize.

"Frenemies" is a female pathology, rooted in status competition, I would imagine.

jameswhy said...

Awww, man...the musical intro, the fedora at a rakish angle, the cigarettes...always the cigarettes...that's why I went into journalism!!

Somehow, I have a hard time picturing Ezra Klein down there in Times Square.