Is there a word, an expression or an idiom for "an enemy who acts more like a friend"?

First thing that came to my mind was "frenemy", but this word is more like a "friend that acts more like your enemy".

Update: I meant "the enemy is genuinely being nice", so a sportsmanlike competitor is something pretty close. The only exception is that the so-called enemy and the other guy are considered enemies by their closest associates as well.

I've been thinking something about gang rivalry, but with much less tension between them.

Update 2: To clear things out. Firstly, two people participating in this relationship seem like sworn enemies to almost everyone surrounding them. But that is not quite how things are, because this two people tend to help each other out in the time of need. Secondly, by gang rivalry I meant the kind of rivalty that happens between members of different gangs.

  • Sometimes English - even with all the words it has - has no single word for many of these questions. There are degrees of enmity and types of enemies but beyond that, it's a fool's errand.... – Lambie Feb 17 '18 at 16:27
  • “An enemy who is more like a friend” is really using non-parallel senses of the two words; this is not forbidden (and can result in oxymorons) but there is no guarantee that a portmanteau say exists. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 17 '18 at 17:08
  • @Lambie I was afraid of this outcome – Hisana Runryuu Feb 17 '18 at 19:00
  • @EdwinAshworth yet another outcome that I was afraid of. But better to try to find something than not – Hisana Runryuu Feb 17 '18 at 19:04
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    @HisanaRunryuu With all due respect, there are times people can't think of, or remember, a word or expression for a concept, but other times, there is simply no such word. After all, why should there be a word such as you describe? Often, writing things about these situations is the only solution. Finally, over or in time, an enemy on some occasion may exceptionally behave as a friend, but that again is a singular situation. Basically, antithesis are that, unless otherwise qualified. – Lambie Feb 17 '18 at 20:10

If a true "enemy" acts like a friend, it's usually a cover-up and an act of deception

It seems the OP is referring to a rival (a person competing with others for the same thing), an opponent (a person who disagrees with something and speaks against it) or a fair-minded person/adversary rather than a sworn enemy.

An adversary suggests someone you are fighting or fiercely competing against, it's more closely related to enemy than to an opponent. In contrast, an opponent can be anyone who objects to a proposal, plan or idea, they may like you as a person but they disagree with your ideas or policies. An opponent can also be someone you are competing against in a sport activity.

Links lead to Cambridge Dictionary

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  • Hmm, I've been thinking about picking "adversary", but still can't quite catch the difference between this word and "opponent". – Hisana Runryuu Feb 17 '18 at 13:31
  • if you have narrowed your choice searching definitions of each should help you make the final decision. – lbf Feb 17 '18 at 13:45
  • @HisanaRunryuu An adversary suggests someone who you are fighting or competing against, it's more closely related to enemy than to an opponent. In contrast, an opponent can be anyone who objects to a proposal, plan or idea, they may like you but disagree with your ideas. They can also be a sport competitor. You need to explain what field this "competition" takes place. – Mari-Lou A Feb 17 '18 at 13:47
  • @mari-lou nice comment and ... a researched answer! – lbf Feb 17 '18 at 13:47
  • @mari-lou Thank you for your explanation, it made things clear. I think opponent would suit better for this case. – Hisana Runryuu Feb 17 '18 at 14:13

The chivalrous enemy is a phrase from WWI, and undoubtedly earlier. See, for example, 10 Stories of Chivalry and Compassion from the Battlefields of World War One and The Creative Dialectic in Karen Blixen's Essays. (Karen Blixen's pen name was Isaac Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa, which was made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.)

The author of the book about Karen Blixen, Marianne T. Stecher, writes that

General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was admired and respected by the English forces in Africa "not only as a skillful commander and brave soldier, but because he was such a chivalrous enemy."

There is much more -- about the resemblance of "wild game hunting to honorable, inspiring warfare' and warfare in which the opponents knew each other personally.

This seems incomprehensible today, but it was a holdover from earlier times when war-like classes and tribes were entwined by centuries of intermarriage and shifting alliances, and when they were not warring for real, competed at tournaments, the Super Bowls of their day.

The easiest story to summarize from the first link I gave is that of the Kaiser and Captain Campbell.

Captain Robert Campbell was captured by the German forces in northern France on August 24, 1914. Like many others, he was sent to a POW camp in Magdeburg, Germany, and it was there that he got word that his mother was dying of cancer. He petitioned Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II for leave to go visit his mother one last time before her death and miraculously, he was granted two weeks leave from the POW camp.

After spending a week with his mother, the Captain returned to Germany, as he had promised, and turned himself in. When he got back to the prison camp, he and several others dug their way to freedom and got almost to the border of the Netherlands before being recaptured.

There is much more to be said about chivalry and the chivalric code; see for example Wikipedia. Note that one could be a chivalrous enemy today and a fierce and cruel enemy tomorrow, and that being a chivalric enemy could be interpreted as treason. See the story of Nurse Cavell in the first link.

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  • This is really helpful and informative! Thank you for answer and links, I'll see the stories in them. – Hisana Runryuu Feb 17 '18 at 15:14

"Flying under a false flag," or just "fasle colors" generally means an enemy disguised as a friend. "Don't trust him. He's wearing false colors."

From https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/False_flag_operation

A false flag operation is an operation conducted by one party or government and made to appear as though it were sponsored by another party or government. The term (although not the tactic) has its origins in the traditions of "honourable" naval warfare, where ships were required to sail under their own national flag in order that they could be identified. As people learned that being a sneaky bastard was much more fun much more effective than playing by the rules, ships began sailing under "false" colours, i.e. flying their enemy's flag in order to get close to their enemy, before swapping to their true colours and opening fire.[1]

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Arch-rivals (sometimes arch rivals, archrivals)

The kind of relationship you describe sounds like those people who are known as 'Arch-rivals'. They compete, often, to be the best in their field - this competitiveness may make them look like enemies - and they may be adversaries - but in fact they have a common goal - to be the best - to strive for greatness, and as such, there is actually a great deal of underlying, but often unseen, congruence between them.

When one of these such pairs of people dies, the other is often distraught - and then people see, that there was actually a deep love, and respect between the two.

How Banksy paid tribute to his arch-rival on the event of his death: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-30339046

The degree to which the arch-rivals appear to be different and the degree to which they appear to be in conflict is a direct measure of the depth of connection between them.

The one actually depends on the other! There is no Holmes without his arch-rival - Moriarty. Batman would sitting at home having a cup of tea in his underpants, were it not for The Joker giving him something to fight against. And Jackie Kennedy would have had a hard time presenting herself as the apple-pie perfect first lady, without the contrast of Marilyn Monroe's breathy birthday rendition to her husband Mr. President.

The arch-rivals are hence also often embodying archetypes that point up major contrasts in polarities in themselves. They need each other - in order to express themselves, fully, and to express their goals. They often express something for large groups of people, often - not just for themselves - but for all of us.


Example of how Moriarty challenges Holmes, which draws out Holmes's greatness: https://tv.avclub.com/sherlock-the-reichenbach-fall-1798172877

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  • I don't think any arch-rival of the ex-premier Margaret Thatcher shed tears of sadness at the news of her death. Joker and Batman were never friends, they never respected each other, you could say Joker was Batman's nemesis. – Mari-Lou A Feb 17 '18 at 15:49
  • She was an extreme case! Her arch-rival was who - Wilson? But he was usually tangled in trade union conflicts and she was so archetypally extreme - like a robot I mean did she really have an 'equal' - if you could call it that - enough to deserve the name 'arch-rival'? I don't think so - she was sooo far out there, she was on her own! Just she and Dennis, really! He (Dennis) was more her counterpoint - playing the role of 'him indoors', in his carpet slippers... – Jelila Feb 17 '18 at 15:51

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