Where does gurlfriend come from?
The term gurlfriend has existed since at least the early 1990s, as a fun new way of writing girlfriend, meant in the traditional sense. It stayed that way for some time before seeming to gain an association with referring to one’s platonic friends. Since at least the 1990s, the sense of gurlfriend as one’s friend or acquaintance has been going strong. Perhaps the alternative spelling is one way that helps differentiate between platonic and romantic girlfriends.
Who uses gurlfriend?
The term gurlfriend is used exactly the way one would expect girlfriend to be used. This includes appearing in both romantic and non-romantic settings. As far as referring to one’s romantic partner is concerned, the meaning doesn’t differ at all. In fact, it seems to be just another way to style it, possibly in a way that better fits the online forum it finds itself in.
Alternatively, gurlfriend tends to be used by gay men and straight women. In this case, a gurlfriend can be a personal friend, or could also be a random stranger. It’s often used as an affectionate label, as women are sometimes inclined to call their friends their gurlfriends. It also functions as a term of endearment or an affectionate for of address often used to encourage or compliment others. If someone likes another person’s style, they might say, “I love your purse, gurlfriend. Where’d you get it?”
This second set of meanings comes with some problems. When straight women use this term, women who are romantically interested in other women might feel alienated. When straight women use it, it can be disappointing for LGBTQ+ women who may have thought they’d found someone like them. It also causes these same women to be mistaken as straight when they actually refer to their partners, not their friends. The use of gurlfriend by straight women is sometimes considered a subtle invalidation.
“I have been watching some left-over 2002 & 2003 model Bianchi Veloce's listed on Ebay (for my gurlfriend) and have been wondering about the quality of the frame myself.”
galen_52657 Bikeforums (November 9, 2004)
“Also appropriately dressed for her age, gurlfriend was lookin' awesome. And although I do love the dress, those arms are what put her here. #blessed”
Nicole Campbell, “Best & Worst of the Globes,” The Duds (January 16, 2014)
“The ‘Wanda’ show is up thru April 30th, try to get down to see it. Take a gurlfriend or your mom.”
“Wanda Exhibit, New Works by Kurtis Rykovich at Kaleid Gallery, San Jose,” Eclectix (April 18, 2010)