Friendship is a wonderful thing. It can be as fragile as a spider’s web at times and stronger than steel at others. I am blessed to have friends from all walks of life, and I actively and diligently work to maintain these friendships. Of all the questions I receive on a regular basis as a language instructor, the most commonly repetitive ones are about friends, finding them, making them, talking to them, keeping them… everyone wants friends.

Therefore, I’ve decided to spend the next few blogs examining friendship through the language we use for it. Let’s see what we can learn about friendship this week.



Let’s begin with a classic song of friendship, “Lean on Me.” While it is very understandable, there are some idiomatic phrases within. Give it a listen if you like before you review the phrases or review and then listen.

Lean on me – lean on is an interesting phrasal verb that can have either positive or negative meaning based on how it’s used. In this context, it means to rely on or get help from; however, in other contexts, it can also mean to be pressured to do something. So, clearly context is important when using this phrase!

 For example, I can LEAN ON my friend and Word Press classmate Ehsan for help because he has more computer knowledge than I and trying to effectively use Photo Shop is driving me crazy.


Swallow your pride – This idiomatic phrase means to accept that something possibly embarrassing or awkward is going to happen, get over it, and ask for help with it. It is often used when someone must ask for help with something because we don’t always like to admit we need help in our lives.

 For example,  when I don’t know the answer to a student’s question in my ESL 201, I can reach out to my friend and S.I. Eric, who is currently in graduate school so actively studying linguistic areas I may have forgotten, and ask him to give me the answer. Even though I am the instructor, I can’t know every grammar bit in the world, but I do have to be willing to SWALLOW MY PRIDE and ask for help.


Need a hand – This idiomatic phrase does not necessarily refer to a hand per se; needing a hand simply means needing help with something, anything.

 For example, on Tuesdays, when I am teaching and also have Under the Tree with Mrs. C at IVC, I have my class bag on wheels, my bag of blankets, my coffee (7 am class!), my water jug (5 hours of teaching!), my lunch (girl’s gotta eat) and more … opening to the door to the building can be a challenge on these days! Apparently I look like I NEED A HAND because total strangers are super friendly and reach out to help me! Whew! I need all the help I can get!



Understanding a problem – Generally, understanding others occurs when we either have experienced some similar situation or we have empathy for that situation.

 For example, when my friend  Marwa is having difficulties raising her two teenage boys (who wouldn’t!), I can UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM even though I am not a parent myself. I have, in fact, taught many a teenager, so I can relate a little to her dilemma and listen and care even though we don’t share the same experiences. Empathy and understanding is required in friendship!



Carry on – This phrase means to keep moving forward in life and not giving up. There’s actually an popular modern song by Fun. titled “Carry On.” It is full of awesome idioms and friendship ideas too.

Bear a load – Today, we would more commonly say bear a burden, but both phrases mean to carry a heavy weight, not necessarily a physical weight, but a metaphorical weight. Such a weight could be a sickness, a difficult family member, a tough job, a financial problem – basically a serious problem.

Share your load – This is similar to share your burden or share the weight of something. This idea was examined by T.A. Webb in Let’s Hear It for the Boy, when he wrote, “A burden shared is burden halved.” Both ideas are the same. If more than one person is carrying a weight, it is not as heavy as carrying it alone.


For example, my friend Long has to BEAR THE BURDEN of having a sick child. She is a wonderful mother and her daughter a beautiful bright young woman who suffers. It is a difficult situation. I can’t heal her daughter or change the situation but I do try to SHARE HER LOAD by being motivating and supporting, listening and providing a shoulder to cry on, UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM and letting her LEAN ON ME when she needs to. This is an aspect of friendship.

In the eternal search for friendship, we are always talking about it in the language. Thus, we have many idiomatic ways to express aspects of friendship.

There are many levels of friends and roles that they play in our lives. Here are 5 idioms that examine some of them.

Catherine and Sheida see eye to eye on so many aspects of language and life! It’s no wonder they get along so well!

See Eye to Eye

This phrase simply means agree with someone; you don’t actually have to be friends to see eye to eye even strangers can do so!

Nonetheless, one of the characteristics of friendship is common bonds, and seeing things the same way, sharing the same values and ideas, and enjoying the same activities certainly helps solidify those links!

Be a Shoulder to Cry on

Another way to express this is to have a shoulder or even need a shoulder to cry on. The idea behind this phrase is when we are upset and being held by someone who cares for us, we are crying on their shoulders.

You don’t have to be a best friend to listen sympathetically to others and let them express concerns and fears. Anyone can provide a shoulder to cry on.

Beth was upset with her Essay 1 grade; she hadn’t spent the time necessary because of her other classes and job last week. When she came to my office hour to talk about it,  I was able to provide a shoulder for her to cry on about her life and difficulties.



Speak the Same Language

This phrase doesn’t have to mean the actual language itself like Chinese or Farsi. The language here can be a metaphorical one like the language of writing teachers, graphic designers, computer engineers, or musical artists. It can refer to socio-economic class, culture, or gender. Language is more than words.

This is why my students can understand me even when their English is developing. Communication, and speaking the same language, does not solely depend on words.


Japanese Student: You should come to talk with Mrs. C under the Tree. It’s so awesome. We speak the same language, you know?

Korean Student: Mrs. C speaks Japanese? I didn’t know that!

Japanese Student: No silly, not Japanese. We speak the language of learning, of knowledge, of caring, of concern, of friendship…

Korean Student: Yes, I can see that. We do speak the same language!

Those two do everything together, don’t they? They are in the same class, the same club, and they work at the same place. I think they even drive to school together! They are surely joined at the hip!

Be Joined at the Hip

This phrase means to be inseparable. It sometimes is used for romantic partners, but it can be used for friends as well. When people do everything thing together, they are said to be joined at the hip.

This is usually used for activities rather than emotional connections.

We’ve been friends for so long, we know each other inside and out! Even more amazing, we are still friends!

Know Someone Inside and Out

This means to know someone very well. 

We all want to be seen and to be accepted for who we are with all the dark and light bits of us.

This aspect of friendship is one that takes time to develop. Having someone who knows and accepts you deeply and completely, inside and out, is a rare and wonderful kind of friendship.

We have seen, just in this one short blog, various levels of friendship from the general asking for help from strangers to the deeper knowledge of intimate friends. I think one of the keys to successful friendship in the United States is to accept all these various levels. In other countries, from what I’ve learned from both my own reading and my students’ stories, friendships seem to be deeper and last longer. We have those too here, but they are more rare and precious. Much more common are the casual fleeting types of friendship, especially in college. Nevertheless, these friendships have their benefit too!

Pursuing every level of friendship is a worthwhile endeavor.

If you want a friend, be a friend.