Asking for a friend

Asking for a friend is a humorous idiom. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying asking for a friend, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Asking for a friend is an idiom one uses when making an inquiry that has the potential for being embarrassing. For instance, one may say, “What should one do if he has a rash between his toes–asking for a friend.” The listener knows that it is actually the speaker who has the rash between his toes, but the speaker and listener can pretend that it is not. The expression asking for a friend came into use in the 1990s and has zoomed in popularity throughout the 2000s. It is derived from the tendency for speakers who have an embarrassing fact or question to share will often start with, “I have a friend who…”


Flossmoor librarian’s ‘Asking for a Friend’ brochures share topical information with teens (Homewood-Flosswood Chronicle)

Any words of wisdom to help people get through it? (Asking for a friend.) (Harvard Business School)

“Does that mean I could apply for a job in Silicon Valley and work remotely from, say, the Caribbean? Asking for a friend,” wrote one user on Blind, an app designed to let workers swap information anonymously. (Reuters)

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