5 Clips from Modern Family – Jokes, Idioms, and Cultural References Explained

5 Funny Clips from Modern Family:
Explained for Non-native Speakers

Watch these 5 clips from Modern Family, one of my favorite American TV shows. You will learn some new idioms, hear some new vocabulary, and experience a bit about American culture. After each clip, I give a short explanation of some things you might not have known before.


ticker – an old-fashioned term (still used by older people) for your heart

cup stacking competition – a sport where people take plastic cups and stack them in specific ways as fast as possible (it’s not seen as very cool or exciting in mainstream American society)

“anyone could’ve gotten swept up” – ‘swept up in the moment’ means that you act without thinking


Chewbacca doll – Chewbacca is a character from the Star Wars movies.

“it’s the only action he’s getting” – “action” is a slang term for sex

air quotes – when you hold up two fingers from each hand to make it look like “quotation marks” – it means that what you are saying isn’t exactly true (either sarcastic or an exaggeration). In this case, Phil is implying that they didn’t really “share” the wine – Claire drank the whole thing.


cheap ho – “ho” is a slang term for a prostitute, or woman who sleeps with a lot of people (please never use this phrase – it is very demeaning and impolite). “Cheap ho” implies that the “prostitute” isn’t a good one, so she has lower rates. However, Cam is talking about Sara Ho (Ho is a common last name in China), who was not generous to Cam when giving him a gift.

promposal – a combination of prom (a fancy dance at American high schools – it’s seen as very important) and proposal (the term for when someone asks another person to marry them). So a promposal is just asking someone to go to the dance with you – in the US, this is seen as very important to lots of people.


“Locomotive for Murder” – a pun combining locomotive (a railway vehicle) and motive for murder (the reason for murdering someone – with crimes the word “motive” is often used instead of “reason” or “cause”).



Barbara Streisand – a famous American singer and actress. She has won an incredible number of awards, and some say she is the most talented singer of all time. One of her movies was “Yentl,” about a father teaching his daughter about the Jewish religion.

Pepper (a friend of Mitchell) liked the movie “Yentl” so much, that he had a second bar mitzvah. A bar mitzvah is something that Jewish boys do when they turn 13 – it is them becoming an adult in the eyes of the religion. Normally you only have one. It’s a big party, and a big deal for Jewish boys (Jewish girls have a similar ceremony called a bat mitzvah)

Ray Liotta (that really is Ray Liotta playing himself – we call that a cameo) is a famous American actor, but not quite as famous as Barbara Streisand.

What next? Keep on laughing and learning!