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Words on your mind – acquaintance

This week, many of you have been searching the Macmillan Dictionary for the word acquaintance. I’m not sure how successful you will have been initially, because this word was often typed in without the first ‘c’. I can see how easy it is to make this mistake. In English, the letters ‘qu’ make the phonetic sound kw, so that first ‘c’ seems redundant.

Acquaintance, in the sense of someone you don’t know that well, is a fairly formal word these days and young people tend to use words like friend or mate instead (the latter is used in British English).  Many classic works of English literature, from the 19th and early 20th centuries in particular include references to acquaintance. In fact some of the more famous quotations about acquaintances were coined around this time, such as:

“Acquaintance. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to.”
Ambrose Bierce
“We need two kinds of acquaintances, one to complain to, while to the others we boast.”
Logan Pearsall Smith

We should perhaps take a longer view about our own acquaintances though, after all:

“The mere process of growing old together will make the slightest acquaintance seem a bosom friend.”
Logan Pearsall Smith

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Beth Penfold

1 Comment

  • It’s interesting because I thought the the semantics of acquaintance in modern times is someone much less than a friend, one we feel we can say ‘hi’ to, but not necessarily strike up a conversation with.

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