Frenemy or frienemy is a portmanteau of friend and enemy which can refer to either an enemy disguised as a friend or to a partner that is simultaneously a competitor. The latter can describe relationships involving:

  1. People;
  2. Politics and International Relationships; or
  3. Commercial Relationships between Companies.


In personal relationships, the use of the term 'frenemy' has become increasingly used to describe two (or more) people who are apparently friends but are actually enemies. Such relationships may occur due to the desire (of either) to keep a close eye on the actions of their close rival (i.e. keep your friends close, keep your enemies even closer).

Alternatively, two people who are apparently enemies may actually be friends in private, with the apparently hostile relationship portrayed in order to deceive or for other forms of gain. Such an arrangement may even be used to cover up a secret relationship between the two parties. Or, the two people might actually like and hate each other simultaneously.

Businessweek noted that frenemies in the workplace are becoming more common due to increasingly informal environments and the "abundance of very close, intertwined relationships that bridge people's professional and personal lives. While it certainly wasn't unheard of for people to socialize with colleagues in the past, the sheer amount of time that people spend at work now has left a lot of people with less time and inclination to develop friendships outside of the office.

First used by author Jessica Mitford.

Politics and international relations

Frenemy has also been used by some scholars of International Relations to refer to countries that are both allies and enemies. Key frenemies of the United States include Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the People's Republic of China. It can also refer to the mutually beneficial relationship between fundamentalist terrorist organizations and authoritarian political parties/military structures.

Commercial relationships

An example of a commercial 'frenemy' relationship is that between Google and WPP. Sir Martin Sorrell said he counts Google as a frenemy of WPP, the ad agency empire that he built. On one hand Google offers WPP a chance to buy cutting edge interactive ads for its clients. On the other hand, Google makes no secret of its intentions to allow anyone to buy ads for themselves, which could disintermediate against ad agencies.

Strategies for dealing with frenemies vary. Sorrell said at UBS Media Week's conference that he wants WPP to be Google's biggest customer, but that he knows Google sees him as competition. Microsoft climbed to greatness on IBM's back, but had to go to great lengths to appease its much larger partner. Microsoft called this practice "riding the bear". Similar relationships existed between PayPal and eBay (the latter of which acquired the former after unsuccessfully competing) and YouTube and MySpace.

In popular culture

Frenemies was used in the popular New Radicals song, You Get What You Give - released on April 20, 1999.

The word was further popularized when used as the title of an episode in the HBO series, Sex and the City episode #46 October 1, 2000 Frenemies.

In the episode "Shock" the two girls involved in the main plot were frenemies. Enemies in front of the camera, but best friends when they were alone.

On February 13, 2007, comedian Stephen Colbert quoted the word frenemy on his Comedy Central show The Colbert Report during his segment "The Wørd." He used the word to describe the foreign policy between the United States and China, saying that the United States is friends with China as far as the "invisible hand of the market," but enemies as the two nations are widely considered to be international rivals in military power. He then hosted an interview with New York Times editor Sheryl WuDunn, author of the book China Wakes, to discuss whether or not China is a "friend, enemy or frenemy" to the United States.

The Mean Girls DVD contains the following interstitial program:

Regina: We do not have a clique problem at this school.
Gretchen: But you do have to watch out for "frenemies".
Regina: What are "frenemies"?
Gretchen: Frenemies are enemies who act like friends. We call them "frenemies".
Karen: Or "enemends".
Gretchen: Or friends who secretly hate you, we call them "fraitors".
Regina: [rolls eyes] That is so gay.
Karen: [gasps] What if we called them "mean-em-aitors"?
Regina: [scoffs]
Gretchen: No, honey, it has to have the word "friend" in it.
Karen: Oh...


Jessica Mitford is quoted in “Decca: the letters of Jessica Mitford - edited by Peter Sussman” as saying that the word frienemy was coined by one of her sisters when she was a small child to describe a rather dull little girl who lived near them- they were inseparable companions, all the time disliking each other heartily". Apparently it was one of Decca's favourite words.

See also

External links

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