I have met many people online, but not physically. Like a boy who's like my brother. They're no less than my real-life buddies. So I have to create a group of contacts devoted to those people only. What can I name that group? Virtual people would be geeky, I need something that's also respectable.

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    "Online friend". There isn't really any term you can use that wouldn't be interpreted as disrespectful to some degree. Other terms you can use include: virtual friend, pen pal, long-distance friend, etc.
    – Othya
    Sep 2, 2014 at 14:32
  • Thanks, I've gone with pen-friend now, which seems not at all any disrespectful, but a better and classic alternative to a friend whom you've not met physically. Sep 2, 2014 at 14:34
  • My wife calls all mine cyber friends and "fake friends" when she's being snide.
    – user39425
    Sep 2, 2014 at 15:31
  • Let me cook up a word... Cyber Chum Sep 2, 2014 at 15:42
  • Great question, of our era !
    – Fattie
    Sep 2, 2014 at 15:45

7 Answers 7


Before the Internet was born, people used to communicate with other people in other places by writing physical letters, mainly for exchanging languages, but also for other purposes, like sharing mutual interests, mating, etc. They'd have their contact details on the related magazines so that the others would've been able to contact them.

That was called a pen friend, or less formally, a pen pal. The alternative spelling for them are penfriend and penpal, without that space in between.

You can check the definitions and articles about these terms on LDOCE and Wikipedia.

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    Would those terms still hold, or do we now use 'mouse friend' ...? Sep 2, 2014 at 14:36
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    You barely type with a mouse these days @EdwinAshworth. I'd go with 'keyboard friend' if I really wanted to replace 'pen'.
    – Neeku
    Sep 2, 2014 at 14:37
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    I've used "pen pal", but personally never heard the term "pen friend", Pen pal is a good word, even though it's a throwback to hand writing, but terms like "hanging up the phone" is still in use as well, even though we don't physically hang it up any more. Sep 2, 2014 at 15:44
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    Pen-friend/pen-pal may well be a transatlantic difference. BrE certainly uses pen-friend (as well as pen-pal); other Commonwealth dialects may do too.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 2, 2014 at 22:07
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    I think penpal/penfriend suggests communication by exchange of private letters. This could definitely apply to a prolongued email exchange, but doesn't quite seem to fit for me if your primary interaction with them is through some other medium, like a forum or another online community. Sep 3, 2014 at 18:37

Online friend may convey the idea:

  • Definition of someone you only chat with on the Internet.

    • An online friendship begins when two people bond and have things in common, just like an offline relationship. The friends may share photos, email each other, or chat on the phone eventually. The friendship can become a source of support and provide emotional benefits even though the friends will never meet in person.

http: www.friendship.about.com

  • That's a fine alternative, but the persona of the term is way behind the gravity of a serious friend (denoted as a real-life close friend generally). In modern context, an online friend is not worth the respect a friend is, but that's not the case with me... Sep 2, 2014 at 14:26
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    @RoseWinters there is no term you can use in this case. It's a fact that people consider real life friendship above online friendship. All you can do is add a descriptor such as "a good online friend of mine", or "a trusted online friend of mine"
    – Othya
    Sep 2, 2014 at 14:34
  • And thus my question "Is there a word..."? Sep 2, 2014 at 14:37
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    indeed, the only phrase I ever use is "he's an online friend" or "he's an online colleague" (if it's business oriented).
    – Fattie
    Sep 2, 2014 at 15:46
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    It's not a generic term, but Facebook friend has a nice ring to it. Sep 3, 2014 at 16:27

In cyber space you can do all kinds of cyber activity, including cyber crime, cyber bullying, cyber security, cyber auctions, cyber attacks, work at your cyber job, obey cyber law, bend to the whim of cyber police, enjoy a journey in cyberquest (jk), find a new job through cyber recruitment, avoid cyber terrorism, attend a cyber university, accumulate cyber wealth, all while making cyber friends.


If you're not opposed to a neologism, why not use "e-quaintance" or "ecquaintance"?

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    'While I delight in exciting new words being invented and promulgated, I think we will rapidly lose our reputation as a place where people can get authoritative answers if many answers are not authoritative but just merely inventive.' (nohat) Sep 2, 2014 at 16:50
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    If my coinage has broken any of english.stackexchange's rules or guidelines, then I offer my apology up front. But don't expect my answers to implicitly or explicitly buttress the position of any perceived authority.
    – blackappy
    Sep 2, 2014 at 17:12
  • Thanks for that. Even though I wouldn't go so far as calling it brilliant. I'm about as dim as they come. ;)
    – blackappy
    Sep 4, 2014 at 10:54

Long Distance Friends

This is the term we use within my circle of friends that I've accumulated after 10+ years growing up with the internet. I have met a fair few of my transatlantic and transpacific friends in person, but I use the term in encompass those I still haven't also.


Cyber-buds, short for cyber buddies :)

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    I've always used "e-buddy."
    – Casey
    Sep 3, 2014 at 21:13

How about "close friend," "friend," or what you would call anyone else you were friends with? The onky one being disrespectful is the person that feels they are of less importance because they are not physically present.

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