How You Doin'?

Learned Vol. 2, Issue 11

My four-year old daughter walked into the room, saw that I had the t.v. on and asked, “What you watchin’?”

Seldom am I so simultaneously pleased with and yet ashamed of myself.

But let’s back up. I have watched, at least once, every episode of Friends. You know, Ross and Rachel, Monica and Chandler, Phoebe and one Joey Tribbiani. The show debuted when I was in college. More specifically, the show entered my life a year later when I had just moved away from home to a larger university in a different town and created a new circle of real life friends.

The routine went like this: Thursdays, after classes and part-time jobs, we all went out to Mulligan’s because Mulligan’s had dollar-well-drinks on Thursdays. Sometime around midnight, my roommates and I would all stagger out of the bar and head back to our shared apartment. Not always, but often, a collection of other friends, girlfriends, hook-ups, and assorted weirdoes would accompany us. We’d open beers and chips and someone would put the tape in the VCR and we’d all fall asleep watching t.v.

T.V. at this point in time was in one of it’s stronger periods and the Thursday night line-up included future classics Friends, Seinfeld, and ER. But, time moved on, I moved out of that apartment and stopped watching so much t.v.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in Japan, dating a wonderful girl who would eventually become my wife and the mother of the four-year-old I mentioned above. During our early dating years, we sometimes struggled to find things to do that didn’t cost a lot of money. This was before streaming t.v. and neither of us had the money for cable. We watched a lot of American t.v. on VHS from the rental store. Including Friends.

Eventually, we got to season 4, episode 13 - The One with Rachel’s Crush. From’s entry, What does how you doing mean?:

Joey teaches his friend Rachel how to confidently ask out a man she has a crush on by looking him up and down, smiling, and asking, How YOU doin’?, with a stress on the middle word. Rachel is skeptical that his plan will work, but after Joey successfully demonstrates the pickup line on another character, Rachel is convinced. Throughout the rest of Friends’ run on the air, the pickup line returns many times as a running joke.

It became a running joke in our relationship, too. Once I had explained that it wasn’t actually “correct” English and that was part of why it was funny. (Need a joke ruined by an overly wordy explanation? Hit me up.) Eventually, this omission of the central verb expanded to a variety of situations. Like watching t.v.

My daughter is growing up with two languages. And, because of our circumstances, her Japanese is far stronger than her English. That said, I do my best to not talk down to her, nor to speak in overly correct, stilted English. Since she’s learning via proximity, I try to make sure that my English is as normal* as possible.

But. “What you watching?” It’s so cute when she says it and it’s something any one of us native speakers understands without a second thought. On the other hand…we use be-verbs for a reason! Proud and embarrassed. Embarrassed and proud. Ah well. How you doin’?

*There is no such thing as normal English. Just so we’re clear. But, in this case, I mean the American vernacular.

It didn’t really fit into the essay above, but this article from the Oxford Dictionaries Blog on the language used, and sometimes coined, by Friends, including the phrase “the friend zone” was really interesting.

How you doing?



How you doing is an informal greeting like How's it going. It is most commonly known as the signature pickup line of character Joey Tribbiani from the sitcom Friends.


a standard greeting inquiry. (The entry without are is informal and usually pronounced "How ya doin'?")

From the Longman Contemporary Dictionary of English:

used when you meet someone to ask them if they are well, happy etc


User Alenanno’s response to the question What does 'How you doing?' by Joey mean? on

The expression How you doin'? is a modification of the English How are you doing? which is another way of saying "How are you?".

This phrase seems to be used by stereotypical mobsters in popular culture, who usually were of foreign descent and so would pronounce expressions with an accent. For example, Tony Soprano in the third season (the 5th quote in Another Toothpick):

Tony Soprano: How you doin'? I got new shoes. Soles are a little heavy

Joey does the same (probably a reference to his foreign descent) but in his case, the sentence is a pick-up line, a conversation starter for his die hard promiscuity with women.

From user J.R.’s response to the question Difference between “How are you doing and How are you” on (English Language Learners):

On the informal side, this "question" might actually be more of a greeting than a question. For example, I might pass a co-worker in the hallway, and say, "How're you doing?" and expect not much more than a nod in return, or maybe a quick "Fine, how are you?" In the latter case, we might be walking past each other as my colleague is speaking, so there's no expectation of an answer from me.

That said, on the other extreme, these questions can also be used to express deep empathy. Another co-worker might tell me that he's lost his mother two days ago, and that he's having to make funeral arrangements. In that case, I might ask him, "How are you doing?" and my mannerisms would be completely different. The words would be spoken more slowly and compassionately; I'd probably be making eye contact, or I might even have a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. I'm essentially asking him, "Is everything okay?" I might even follow it up with something like, "If you need anything from me, just let me know."

Notable Events of the Year 1998

You’re reading Learned, a weekly newsletter about words and language, written by me, Joel Neff. If you like what you see, please consider subscribing:

More information can be found on the About page, or by contacting me through emailtwitter, or instagram. Thank you for reading.


Joey Tribbiani wasn’t the only Italian-American to say how you doing. As noted above, mobsters from Tony Soprano to Michael Corleone also said it along with lots of other quotable lines. Here are a few favorite quotes from fictional gangsters:

Next Time: It was a dark and stormy night. That’s it. Stay strong, stay curious. Learn something.