I have found at several places (e.g., here) that

Enemy mine

is a short version for the proverb:

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

This makes little sense to me, as the essence of the proverb, i.e., the double enemy relationship, is lost in enemy mine.

My best guess so far is that this once was

Enemy of mine

and the double genetive (see, e.g., this question) really indicated a double dependence. But I am neither really happy with this nor can I confirm it.

  • Keep in mind that enemy mine would be a perfectly acceptable order in some older forms of English. The Lord's Prayer in Old English begins with faeder ure, lit. 'father our'. – Anonym May 9 '14 at 0:26
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    That is simply not true. Those are wrong. – tchrist May 9 '14 at 0:44
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    Can you give another example? I tend to think the Wikipedia reference is just erroneous. – joseph_morris May 9 '14 at 1:53
  • @joseph_morris: I researched a bit: Wikipedia claims this for more than a year now, and got it from TV Tropes, where it seems to have a complicated history. So far, I could not find any source that predates the two (but dozens that are younger), so this may actually be the origin. – Wrzlprmft May 9 '14 at 9:30
  • @tchrist: Whom are you referring to with those? – Wrzlprmft May 9 '14 at 9:31

"Enemy mine" seems to be a phrase coined by Barry Longyear, who used it as a title of an award-winning science fiction story, which was later made into a film. He certainly did not intend it to mean "the enemy of my enemy". He used it to simply mean "my enemy". He says:

I had just gotten the general story situation clear in my mind, and was watching David Niven in The Best of Enemies on television, when the title popped into my head: "Enemy Mine." Why not "My Enemy," or "The Enemies"? I not only liked the sound of "Enemy Mine," but the construction resembled the English/Drac pidgin language the two characters used while they were learning each other's tongue.

The plot of the story is indeed "mortal enemies work together for their common good", which is what TV tropes discusses under the title "enemy mine". However, the idea that "enemy mine" originated as a shorter version of the Arab proverb "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" seems to be complete nonsense.

  • Not having read the story or seen the film, I guess I always assumed that it involved land mines somehow. – phenry May 9 '14 at 18:03
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    @phenry: You aren't the only one who's confused. The film butchered the ending of the story to add a subplot involving a mine (in the mineral extraction sense), and I'm convinced that was done at the insistence of some studio executive who felt that he'd been promised a mine by the title. – keshlam May 9 '14 at 19:32
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    BTW, the phrase also references archaic/poetic uses of the inverted form -- eg "Baby Mine", which is a song that Dumbo's mother sings to him early in that movie -- and hence expresses conflicting emotions in much the same way that "dear enemy" would (but more stylishly). I'm sure Longyear was aware of that and deliberately using it to summarize the story's essential point, even though he didn't mention this in the cited quotation. – keshlam May 9 '14 at 19:37

Thanks for the additional information.

Despite its disclaimer to the contrary ("Not to be confused with the Dennis Quaid movie/Barry Longyear story Enemy Mine"), I think the TV Tropes article is, in fact, confused with the Dennis Quaid movie/Barry Longyear story Enemy Mine, and the TV Tropes author is interpolating something from the title that is not there.

Although I haven't seen the movie or read the book, there are no indications given in several summaries (Wikipedia for film and book, NYT review of the movie cited in Wikipedia article) as to why the movie is so titled. From the plain words "Enemy Mine", and the general gist of the book (former enemies work together when put in a dangerous situation isolated from the war that made them enemies), it appears that Longyear was trying for a more-interesting version of "My Enemy" by using the archaic "Mine" in lieu of "My" and inverting the words, along the lines of what @Shane wrote in his answer.

I think it is safe to say it is an invention of Longyear, futher popularized by the movie of the same title, which a lazy TV Tropes author tied to an existing proverb because both contain similar words. I do not think that the equivalence between "enemy mine" and the ancient maxim is valid or widespread.


It might help to supply more of the original context. I agree with the other commentators though that it cannot mean "the enemy of my enemy". It looks to me like it's probably the pronoun mine being used poetically in place of the usual adjective my. This used to be done sometimes in English, as late as the 19th century actually, to avoid elision between a final vowel of one word and an initial vowel in the following word.

For instance, in the American patriotic hymn of the Civil war, the first line goes:

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Mine eyes isn't correct, grammatically, but it keeps the two vowels from getting smashed together in my-eyes, which is important for the meter of the song.

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    I generally agree, except "mine eyes" is not incorrect; it's just archaic. Most dictionaries include a definition of "mine" that includes this usage. – joseph_morris May 9 '14 at 17:44

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