Is a Friend in Need a Friend In-deed?

‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’ There are many variations of the saying, sure. But who exactly came up with the original? Why; and what does it even mean? More importantly, does it even make sense? This exploration could do us all a load of good, and here’s why.

This is one of the phrases in the language that is interesting because there are various interpretations of the meaning. Firstly, is it 'a friend in need is a friend indeed' or 'a friend in need is a friend in deed'. Clearly, that would have a bearing on the meaning. 

The 'in need' is also open to interpretation - is it 'a friend (when you are) in need' or 'a friend (who is) in need'. If the former, then the phrase means: 'someone who helps you when you are in need is a true friend'. If the latter, it is 'someone who needs your help becomes especially friendly in order to obtain it'. 

So, that gives us four options:
1. A friend, (when you are) in need, is indeed a true friend. ('indeed')
2. A friend, (when you are) in need, is someone who is prepared to act to show it ('in deed')
3. A friend, (who is) in need, is indeed a true friend. ('indeed')
4. A friend, (who is) in need, is someone who is prepared to act to show it ('in deed') 

There is no unambiguous right or wrong here and this is a phrase that we probably infer the meaning of from context when we first hear it. There are contemporary variations too, you will no doubt have heard “A friend with weed is a friend indeed.” and the like. Whichever of the above options we initially elect will cement our understanding of the phrase; probably forever. This does not make it the only option to consider.

It is quite fascinating how many different interpretations of the phrase there are as well as the technicalities that can emerge out of them. However, all interpretations basically boil down to a theme revolving around: Favours between friends. This applies to everyone and surely causes mixed reactions. Before the phrase is lost in the skirmish of interpretations, let us consider it from another perspective and bring freshness to the fore.

To divulge, consider this: A friend in need is a friend in need. That seems to be more appropriate as an all-encompassing phrase. To be frank, when the time comes to lend a helping hand to a friend, or ask for one, there is no denying that it is a friend, and a favour. Despite possible/probable inconveniences, there is definite reason to engage in the ‘good Samaritan’ approach. Give your friend some help. Remember, it is a ‘need’ not a ‘want’.

Let’s face it; no one wants to be a hindrance but at times situations require external assistance and one should not adopt a ‘don’t ask me’ attitude because all in all, it could be you. 

With extracts from: <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/a-friend-in-need.html>