10 Phrases the Friends gang made mainstream

Ahead of the Friends reunion, linguistic expert Jennifer Dorman at language learning app Babbel sheds light on some of the words and phrases that the popular sitcom made mainstream.

Any sort of artistic representation is a reflection of the mores (cultural values, customs and conventions of society) of the time and place in which it was created. Language, like culture, isn’t static—rather it is dynamic and often fluid.

Friends’ treatment of sexist or homophobic tropes as comedic devices was considered by many to be within the bounds of acceptable comedic expression during the time of its onset. However, society has evolved from those conventions, and what we may have laughed at 20 years ago causes us to cringe today. How we view Friends through the lens of 21st-century sensibilities speaks to how far society has advanced in terms of equal treatment and culturally appropriate representations of diversity.

 

Friend zone

The scene from friends with the friendzone

A situation between two people in a platonic friendship in which one wants to enter a romantic relationship, while the other does not. In season 1, episode 7—"The One with the Blackout"—Joey tells Ross that it’s time he makes a romantic move on Rachel, before he becomes permanently stuck in the "friend zone".

Following the introduction of the concept, use of the "friend zone" has since snowballed, finding a presence in everyday language and pop culture alike. "Being in the friend zone" is now a way to describe being rejected or not yet considered romantically by a friend you have feelings for; although it should be noted that in recent years the phrase has come under scrutiny, with many people arguing that the concept should not actually exist.

Lobster

lobster

In a romantic context, a "lobster" refers to a person’s soul mate. In season 2 episode 14—"The One with the Prom Video"—Phoebe refers to Rachel as being Ross’s lobster, explaining that lobsters fall in love and mate for life.

While this fact about lobsters isn’t actually true, the term is still used to refer to soulmates today. In fact, the word became so synonymous with love that it lent its name to The Lobster (a bizarre film about finding your soulmate), has been a featured slogan and image on many a Valentine’s Day card, and can even be found on t-shirts and similar love-themed apparel. The concept of lobster is firmly part of the narrative around love—and it’s all thanks to Phoebe Buffet.

Meat sweats

meat sweats scene Friends

This phrase refers to the excessive perspiration that results from eating copious amounts of meat. In Season 8, episode 9—"The One with the Rumour"—Joey convinces Monica to cook a large turkey for Thanksgiving, promising that he will single-handedly finish the entire thing.

After changing out of jeans and into a pair of Phoebe's maternity trousers, Joey finishes the full turkey, only to be plagued by "meat sweats" following his accomplishment. Today, many elect to use the phrase "food coma" to describe similar physiological sensations associated with over-indulging, such as lethargy and feeling overly warm.

BFF

Friends cast

An acronym meaning "best friend forever". While Phoebe didn’t invent the term, she was the first to use it in a TV show in season 3, episode 25—"The One at the Beach"—when referring to her mum and her mum’s pal from high school, after looking through her mother's yearbook.

As Phoebe was the first to proclaim BFF and its meaning loud and proud on national television, we have her to thank for popularising the acronym, and the darling apparel that came with it. From friendship bracelets to "other half" necklaces that we proudly share with our BFFs today, we can help but thank Phoebe for our sentimental and nostalgic feelings attributed to the term BFF.

Frienaissance

Friends scene

A term referring to quality time with a close friend. When Joey asks Phoebe to road trip with him back to New York after a stressful time in Las Vegas in season 6, episode 1—"The One after Vegas"—Phoebe asks if Joey wants to have a frienaissance, to re-connect.

By today’s standards, a frienaissance can refer to anything from binging Netflix with your close friend, to enjoying a night on the town—post-coronavirus, of course.

Moo point

Joey going wide-eyed

A "moo point" comes from Joey misunderstanding the phrase, a "moot point", which is a matter that lacks practical significance, according to Merriam-Webster. In season 7, episode 8—"The One where Chandler doesn’t like Dogs"—Joey tells Rachel that "a moo point is like a cow’s opinion: it doesn’t matter, it’s moo".

While people don’t necessarily say moo point in daily life, moot point is still an everyday phrase many people get wrong today—and Friends certainly perpetuated this misunderstanding!

Unagi

Unagi

Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel. Some of the funniest things in friends come from misinterpretations, like Ross, in season 6, episode 17—"The One with Unagi".

Ross assures Phoebe and Rachel that unagi is a state of total awareness taught in "ka-rat-ay" (karate); however, in reality, it is simply a fish. We can’t blame you if you can’t say unagi, or karate, without giggling after watching this scene.

Phalange

Regina Phalange

While "phalanges" is the anatomical term for the bones in the fingers and toes, phalange develops its own definition in the series, thanks to Phoebe. Coming to mean literally anything, phalange pops up throughout the series as Phoebe introduces herself with the alter ego "Regina Phalange".

The most famous scene featuring this word is when Phoebe tries to delay Rachel from flying to Paris on Ross’s behalf, in season 10, episode 18—"The Last One, Part 2". Phoebe calls Rachel, stalling her by saying she is worried that there is something wrong with the plane’s left phalange, causing Rachel’s eavesdropping seatmate to become nervous and cause a scene and eventually leading to mass disembarkation from the plane.

Whilst the word is repeatedly used in horrendously inaccurate contexts, it simply works because no one really knows its meaning—and it’s pretty enjoyable to say!

How you doin'?

How you doing

A pick up line. Usually said with a smirk whilst flirting. Joey coined the phrase "How you doin’?" relatively late in the series considering its popularity, with it first appearing in season 4, episode 13—"The One with Rachel’s Crush".

While Joey actually doesn’t say this phrase too many times throughout Friends, it leaves a lasting impression that will immediately make any Friends fans feel nostalgic. It’s not a gender-specific pick up line either—in fact, Rachel uses it once or twice!

Men and women alike have come to use this phrase when someone has caught their eye, and even though it’s usually just a bit of fun when we use it in the real world, it’s still a pick up line that Friends has brought us.

"I wish I could but I don’t want to"

Phoebe

This phrase is delivered by Phoebe during Friend’s first ever episode, The Pilot. When Ross asks if Rachel and Phoebe would like to help him, Joey, and Chandler build furniture for his apartment, Rachel declines whilst Phoebe says, "I wish I could, but I don’t want to".

Phoebe’s delivery is perfect, and is considered the predecessor to today’s relatable and popular memes and phrases, including "Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come."

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