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We Really Need to Talk About Your Friends

We Need to Talk About Your Friends
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Now, Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English.

Each week, this program tells about words and expressions in American English. Sometimes we give examples through conversations, stories and even songs -- whatever we can use to help you improve your understanding of American English!

Today we start by asking a question: What sort of friends do you have?

The answer is probably -- all different kinds!

So, we will talk about different expressions that we use for different kinds of friendship.

You've got a friend in me, You've got a friend in me, When the road looks rough ahead, And you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed. You just remember what your old pal said, Boy, you've got a friend in me …

When Randy Newman sings "you've got a friend in me," he simply means that he is a good friend of yours.

But what do you call someone who is not really a friend? You just, kind of, know them.

Acquaintances are people you know, but not well. When using this word, there is often a distance between two people. We often use it when we want to state that the person is not a true friend. It doesn't mean that you have bad feelings about the other person. You are simply acquainted with them. In other words, you know his or her name but that's about it.

An acquaintance could one day be a friend if the two of you spend time together and you find that you have things in common.

As the adjective suggests, a distant friend is someone you consider a friend, but not a close one. Maybe time or distance has come between you. Or perhaps you know them in a limited way. Again, calling someone a distant friend does not mean you have bad feelings for them.

Distant friends could also be mutual friends -- people you know through other people. Mutual friends are friends you have in common, or share, with someone else. When we don't want to use the word "mutual," Americans often just say a friend of a friend.

For example, I could say, "Oh, I don't know her well at all. She's just a friend of a friend ... of a friend." You can add as many “of a friends” as you think necessary.

Your childhood friends are the people you grew up with. Many people grow apart from their childhood friends. But some people remain close with those people who were among their first friends.

Fast friends are people who become friends soon after they first meet. It's as if you were meant to be friends with each other.

These days, there are people who are friends through social media.

As social media developed, the word "friend" has also become a verb, as in this example: "After she stole my client list, I unfriended her on my social media accounts. She cannot be trusted."

Now, if you have friends who are important in the community or are extremely wealthy or powerful, you might say that you have friends in high places. These friends have power and influence. They can help you when you're in trouble or when you need something.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have friends in high places. And that is okay. Sometimes it's more fun to have the opposite.

'Cause I've got friends in low places, Where the whiskey drowns
And the beer chases my blues away. And I'll be okay.

If someone is no longer your friend, you can call him or her an ex-friend. The two of you may have had a “falling out," meaning a disagreement or fight. And now you are “on the outs,” meaning no longer talking to each other.

There's another kind of friend that I'm sure we've all had at one point: the fair-weather friend.

First, what exactly is "fair weather"?

When weather conditions are fair, they are really nice. Everything from taking a walk to doing home repairs and playing sports is easier to do in nice weather. There's no driving rain, heavy snow or strong winds to make things difficult.

As an adjective describing things, the term fair-weather means something is designed for nice weather use only. For example, in boating, a fair-weather sail is only good for sailing in good weather. And a fair-weather tent is only meant to be used when camping in mild, dry conditions.

Well, the same can be said for a fair-weather friend. Such a person is only there during easy, carefree times. But as soon as things get difficult, they are nowhere to be found. We should note that this idiomatic usage describing a type of friend is much more common than the actual meaning.

One online reference guide gives us another definition of a fair-weather friend as "one who is helpful, friendly or available” but only when it is convenient for them. So, this friend will help you if he or she gets something out of the relationship. If not, you are on your own!

Another online guide defines fair-weather as "insincere and temporary." Americans often use "fair-weather" when talking about sports. When a team is doing well, fair-weather sports fans jump on board. They want to talk about the team morning, noon and night. But at the first sign of a losing streak, a fair-weather fan jumps ship!

So, a fair-weather friend will not see you through the bad times. That is why we have close friends and even best friends. This person will help you through thick and thin. They are often the wind beneath our wings, as the song says, meaning they lift us up and help us get to where want to go.

And who doesn't want a friend like that?

And that's Words and Their Stories. I'm Anna Matteo!

WRITING PROMPT: Do you have a word like "fair-weather friend" in your language? Let us know in the Comments Section! Or simply practice with some of these expressions by describing one of your friendships.

Why can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friends? I seen you around for a long, long time. I remembered you when you drank my wine. Why can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friends?

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow edited the story.


Words in This Story

acquaintance n. someone who is known but who is not a close friend

mutual adj. shared between two or more people or groups < Examples: Mutual love and respect was the key to their successful marriage. The partnership was based on mutual admiration and understanding. >

tentn. a portable shelter that is used outdoors, is made of cloth (such as canvas or nylon), and is held up with poles and ropes : < Examples: We will pitch the tent [=put our tent up, set our tent up] here. >

idiomatic adj. of or relating to an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own

convenient adj. allowing you to do something easily or without trouble

insincere adj. not expressing or showing true feelings : not sincere

temporary adj. continuing for a limited amount of time : not permanent

jump on board idiomatic expression : commit, join, decide to be a part of something

streak n. a period of repeated success or failure