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					        Cultural References and Idioms in the TV series Friends
                  Eva-Lisa Hasan and Saara Karjalainen, November 2008

We did a brief analysis of the language used in the hit television series Friends. We
concentrated on cultural references, idioms and their translations into Finnish. We used
episodes from the seasons 6-8 translated by SDI Media Group. We found that there were
quite a lot of word games probably due to the fact that it is a comedy and the jokes are
usually quite clever and funny.

Idioms and word games

Rachel has to move out of her shared apartment with Monica, because Chandler is
moving in. But, because of a big fight they decide to call it off. Gunther told Rachel that he
heard she was moving, but Rachel then says: “No, I’m staying put”. This is translated into
Finnish as “Minun ei tarvitsekaan muuttaa”.

Ross offers Rachel the possibility to move in with him. Phoebe thinks it’s a bad idea and
asks Ross if he’s sure about this. Ross answers: “I’ve been back and forth” (translated as
“On ja ei”) and Phoebe answers back: “Go back!” (translated as “Päätä jo!”). The main
idea gets through in the translation, which is the most important thing in audiovisual
translation, but it doesn’t correspond with the original phrases in the sense that it isn’t
translated as an idiom. Also, in the situation Phoebe wants Ross to go back to the time
where he thought moving in with Rachel is a bad idea, but in the translation this idea
doesn’t get through as only a decision is required, no matter which one.

Young Americans often use the expression Whatever! which basically means “ihan sama”
in Finnish when used in this sort of context. Phoebe sees that she’s wrong and doesn't
want to acknowledge it and so says “whatever!” which is translated as “mitä ikinä”. This
doesn’t really sound good in Finnish, but this is, of course, debatable.

Joey has a crush on his new roommate Janine, a dancer, who gets invited to dance on
Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve, a special program which airs on New Year’s Eve.
This is one of Ross and Monica’s favorite shows and so Janine invites them to come
along. Monica says “Mom and Dad are gonna be so faced!” . This is translated as “saavat
nenilleen”, but the point is rather that they will be jealous.
On the day of the shoot Joey wants to kiss Janine and waits for the fake New Year’s
countdown in order to get a chance to kiss her. But right after “one” the director yell’s
“Cut!” and so Joey cries “Noooo!” right out loud. Everyone turns over to look and he
continues with “Happy No year!” The translation is “Ei! Mutta! Hyvää mutta vuotta!” . The
word “mutta” is added in order to get a word that sounds like “uutta” (as with “no” and
Meanwhile, Monica and Ross feel that they aren’t being filmed close enough and decide to
do a dance routine from middle school. The routine is ridiculous and the director promises
to film them and says to the cameraman “Make sure you get this, Dick’ll want in on his
bloopers show”. The show is translated as “piilokamera”, but it’s not actually candid
camera. However, taking into account the limited space and time subtitles get on the
screen, and the fact that there is no equivalent show in Finland, this is quite a good choice.

Rachel and Phoebe are searching for Christmas presents that Monica has gotten them,
but they find Chandler’s instead. He walks in as they are looking at them. He had got
Phoebe a set of book ends; the letters A and Z. Phoebe says “Thanks for my az” referring
to “ass” as she thought it was a lousy present. The translation is simply “Kiitos azistani”
which doesn’t translate the idea of a bad present.

Rachel is driving Monica’s Porsche and Ross is in the car with her. She is driving quite
fast, which disturbs Ross and he asks her to “stop horsing around” (translated with the
verb hassutella) and Rachel responds with “I’m not horsing around, I’m porching around”,
a word game which suites the situation. The Finnish translation uses the verb “kaasutella”,
which sort of rhymes with “hassutella”, but does not emphasize the fact, that she is driving
a Porsche, which is quite relevant in the scene. Could this have been translated with the
word pair “pelleillä-porscheilla”, as alliterations are often used in Finnish?

Rachel get’s pulled over for speeding and tries to get out of getting a ticket by flirting with
the officer. She calls him “Officer Handsome” (translated “konstaapeli Komea”), and he
responds by “It’s Hanson” (“Nimeni on Hanson”). Her plan does work, but the officer asks
Ross to drive. He in turn, gets pulled over for driving too slow and tries Rachel’s tactics by
calling the officer “Officer Pretty” (“konstaapeli Kaunis”) but he responds “Its’ Petty”
(“Nimeni on Petty”). There is a game with the similarity of the words, but the Finnish
translation doesn’t follow the same pattern.

Rachel teaches Ross’s son practical jokes, which he doesn’t appreciate and says to
Rachel “I have a bone to pick with you”, translated “minulla on kanssasi kana kynittävänä”.

Rachel get’s a birthday card with the expression “It’s better to be over the hill than buried
under it”. This is translated as “Parempi olla toinen jalka haudassa kuin kokonaan

Monica has to call Joey’s parents in order to invite them to her wedding as she hadn’t sent
a proper invitation. Joey advises her to blame the post office. On the phone Monica says
“U.S Post Office? More like U.S. Lost Office! ”. The translation is “Postilaitos? Pikemminkin
Roskalaitos!”, which translates the idea of blaming the post office.
Monica and Chandler go to Las Vegas in order to invite Chandler’s father, a drag queen, to
the wedding. They have a complicated relationship, which Chandler describes using the
expression “It’s all very cats in the cradle; I don’t wanna get into it”. The translation is
simply “Se on mutkikas juttu. En halua puhua siitä”. Chandler’s father says ”I’m not very
fond of New York. Queens I like”, referring to the fact that he’s a drag queen. However,
this is not taken in consideration in the translation, it being simply “Queensista pidän”.

Cultural references

Pottery Barn – a furniture store
Macy’s – a department store (“It’s a Macy’s bag!” translated as “Macy’n kassi!”)
Barney’s – a clothing store
Fruit rollups – a sort of candy (translated hedelmäkääryle!!?)
20 questions – translated as kysymyspeli
Oklahoma: The Sooner State
Eating pancakes for breakfast
Chandler’s father dressing up like Carmen Miranda
Chandler making a joke about buying his wedding vows: “I’ll buy a vow, Pat” referring to
the show Wheel of fortune, where it’s part of the game to buy vowels.
Monica’s father referring to Rita Moreno as a woman on his “list” (of women he is allowed
to sleep with)
Fifth Avenue – a street in New York
Going for drinks at The Plaza – a famous building in New York
Ross playing “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang on bag pipes
Chandler says: She wanted to sleep with Batman but got Robin instead”, Joey says
“That’s crazy!” and Phoebe responds by “Yeah, Robin is so gay”.
Bridal shower – an innocent party for the bride (not bachelorette party or “polttarit” as
translated in the series)
Chuckie III – A scary movie
Days of our lives – In Finland it is Päivien viemää, but it’s not translated in one of the
scenes as Joey is talking about DOOL
La Guardia airport – one of the main airports in New York
Memorial Day weekend 2002 – translated as toukokuussa 2002

ESPN – translated as urheilukanava
E! – translated as viihdekanava
Baby Ruth – Rachel and Ross consider the name Ruth for their baby but when saying out
loud “Baby Ruth” they decide not to use it as it’s too close to the name Babe Ruth, the
famous baseball player.

Other fun expressions

Lovey Loverson – Leo Lempijä
Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E – Mac ja K.O.K.I.S (why not Mac ja J.U.U.S.T.O)

Translating swear words

Generally in audiovisual translation strong swear words are not translated as they have a
quite large impact. Also in Friends, for example “son of a bitch” is translated as “senkin
mäntti”. However, it is not logical that in another episode the expression “Damn it!” is
translated as “Helvetti!” which is a much stronger word. A more accurate translation could
have been “Helkkari”. The expression “Oh crap!” is translated as “saakeli”. This translation
is the best of the three pairs as both expressions have the same “swear value”.

The use of the word “hot”

The word is used a lot in the series and it has various translations depending on to the
situation. Words like “söpö”, “kuuma pakkaus” or “makea” are used as Finnish equivalents.


Idioms and word games can be a translator’s nightmare, especially in audiovisual
translation where space and time are limited. Everything cannot be perfectly translated into
another language, especially word games. They require imagination and excellent
language skills. Cultural references are a challenge, as a foreign audience is not familiar
with the referents. There is generally no room for explanations (and if used are often
clumsy) and any attempt to replace a foreign referent with a local one simply doesn’t work.
For example it would be unnatural to replace Macy’s by Sokos, as we know that the action
takes place in New York.

There are several points in which it is possible to criticize the translations. In several cases
the translator does not explain or generalize cultural references for the Finnish audience.
Proper nouns could be translated by general nouns (for example Macy’s tavaratalo) to
give the Finnish audience a better idea of the referent in question. The translator might
consider that these referents are known to the Finnish public (which isn’t always the case),
or simply doesn’t make the effort of finding out what they are. There are no perfect
solutions for these kinds of problems and translators often have little time to solve tricky
questions so translation errors or clumsy solutions are never really avoidable.