Why is it customary for a heterosexual woman to refer to her heterosexual female friend as a "girlfriend",but not the case for a heterosexual man and his male buddy to call one another "boyfriends"? How did our language evolve this way,and is it similar in other languages throughout the world?

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    (Continued) In Norwegian, my second language, venn and vennine are desperately ambiguous, but they have the option of using kamerat (borrowed from German). There again, any female Anglo keen to avoid the implication of lesbianism can use pal, can she not? (I have used gal-pal myself, although by rights it does not belong to my generation or segment.) In Hebrew, khaver, originally "comrade" as in the early-communist usage, by at least the Seventies came to mean one's main squeeze. I think amiga is ambiguous, but don't have a Spaniard on tap at the moment. – David Pugh May 1 '15 at 11:13
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    Non-English languages are out of scope, but culture must play a part. Where homosexuality is illegal, for example, boyfriend may be used between heterosexual men simply because a homosexual use is unthinkable. (There are English-speaking cultures where homosexual practices are illegal, so this part does appear to be in-scope.) – Andrew Leach May 1 '15 at 11:13
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    I don't claim to know the history either. There are lots of things in language that don't have a good logical reason: they just are. @andrewleach In the U.S., women were calling female friends "girlfriends" while men were not calling male friends "boyfriends" for as long as I can remember, way back when homosexuality here was, if not illegal, at least much more frowned on that it is today. – Jay May 1 '15 at 13:48
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    Curiously girlfriend meaning female friend is older in usage than man's sweetheart. Girlfriend also girl-friend, by 1859 as "a woman's female friend in youth," from girl + friend (n.). As a man's sweetheart, by 1922. She-friend was used 17c. in the same set of senses, of the mistress of a man and of a woman who is a close friend of another. (Etymonline) – user66974 May 1 '15 at 14:18
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    @the other one: And particularly, I think, when "Girlfriend" is used between women as a term of address. Which, funnily enough, it is not between man and woman. I should think that a British woman addressed as "Girlfriend" would raise an eyebrow and diagnose an detox clinic – for Lena Dunham? Sex & the Shopping? Something like that, I am no expert. – David Pugh May 1 '15 at 14:34

I think the following extract offers an interesting point of view on the subject:

A Lexical Beef: ‘Boyfriend’ and ‘Girlfriend.

  • Etymology Online dates the term boyfriend,” meaning “woman’s paramour,” to 1909. However, the term has an earlier platonic sense. The first use I managed to find in Google Books, from an obscure 1850 publication titled Friends’ review: a religious, literary and miscellaneous journal, describes the friend of a young man, not the lover of a young woman:

  • Though daily occupied with his drudgery as a farm servant, he began to instruct himself in Latin and Greek. A boy friend lent him several books necessary in these studies…

  • Girlfriend seems to have had a similar trajectory, beginning as a term for a young female friend, only taking on romantic connotations after the conversion of boyfriend. Intriguingly, the original sense of girlfriend is still alive and kicking, as one can hear in phrases like, “I’m going to spend some time with my girlfriends this weekend.” I can’t say for sure why the platonic meaning of boyfriend didn’t also survive. Perhaps some consider it un-masculine to refer to your drinking buddies the same way their girlfriends do?


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