‘Friend or Foe’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on January 13, 2023

What does it mean when someone says ‘friend or foe’? Where does this phrase come from?

‘Friend or foe’ is a phrase that poses the question of whether someone is an ally or an enemy.

What Does 'Friend or Foe' Mean?

‘Friend or foe’ is a phrase that means “an ally or an enemy.” Basically, it is a question asking if someone is trustworthy and on the same side as them or if they are an opponent that they cannot trust. In common usage, this can be used in a joking or a serious way, depending on the context.

Where Does 'Friend or Foe' Come From?

We frequently use the Google Books Ngram Viewer to understand how the usage of phrases has changed over time. It’s common to find that phrases are less common in the early 1800s and gain momentum sometime in the 20th century to reach a peak in the current day, but this isn’t the case with ‘friend or foe.’

Instead, we see that ‘friend or foe’ seems to have had its hay day in the first half of the 1800s before becoming less common. It’s only been since the year 2000 that usage has started to increase again.

The word ‘friend’ comes from the Old English word freond which means “one attached to another by feelings of preference or personal regard.” This has roots in Proto-Germanic, Old Danish, Old Frisian, Dutch, High German, and German words.

‘Foe’ also stems from Old English, this time from the word gefea meaning “foe, an adversary in a blood feud, enemy.” The first recording of the weaker sense of the word simply meaning “adversary” comes from around the year 1600.

‘Friend or Foe’ in Popular Culture

This phrase has been used in a number of film, television, and music titles. Film and television titles utilizing the ‘friend or foe’ concept include a 1982 British film by John Krish, an American game show from 2002-2003, and an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. In the music world, ‘Friend or Foe’ is the name of an Adam Ant album and song, and ‘Friend or Foe?’ is also the name of albums by the bands The Forces of Evil and Blackmail.

Wrapping things up in the world of media and culture, the Russian band t.A.T.u (singers of the international hit “All the Things She Said”) also had a song by the name of “Friend or Foe.”

Beyond film, television, and music, there is also a computer and video game named Spider-Man: Friend or Foe.

Finally, you may have also heard the term ‘friend or foe’ in relation to the identification system known as “Identification, friend or foe.” The acronym for this system is IFF, and it was created in response to the fact that it was difficult to distinguish friendly aircrafts from hostile ones with the successful deployment of air defense radar systems during WWII.

There have been a number of iterations of IFF systems since the idea was first conceived, and the US and other NATO nations started using an IFF system known as Mark XII in the late twentieth century.

Examples of 'Friend or Foe' In Sentences

How would you use ‘friend or foe’ in a sentence? Let’s look at some examples:

  • “This homework question asks whether Amber is a friend or foe to Suzy in the story. What do you think?”
  • “Samantha is so hard to read– on Friday, she’ll be my best friend, and on Monday, she won’t speak to me. I honestly ask myself, “friend or foe?” every time I see her.”
  • “I may be wrong, but do you get a weird feeling from John? He seems nice enough, but I cannot help but wonder if he’s a friend or foe.”
  • “My favorite part of the movie is when the sentry yells out, ‘Who goes there? Friend or foe?”
  • “I saw you talking to Jenny– the project manager from our main competitor. What did you think? Friend or foe?”

Are you searching for more English idioms and phrases to add to your vocabulary? The more idioms you learn, the more diverse and exciting your writing and speech can be. Be sure to check out our idioms blog to learn the definition, origin, and example sentences of tons of phrases.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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