Understanding the Idiom: "friends in low places" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

When we talk about “friends in low places,” we are referring to a common idiom that has been used for many years. This phrase is often used when someone wants to describe a person who has friends that may not be considered respectable or high-class. It can also refer to someone who has connections with people who are not well-regarded by society.

The origins of this idiom are unclear, but it is believed to have originated in the United States. It is often associated with country music, as there have been several songs written about having “friends in low places.” However, this idiom can be used in any context where someone wants to describe their social circle.

Having “friends in low places” can be seen as both positive and negative. On one hand, it can mean that someone has a diverse group of friends from all walks of life. On the other hand, it can suggest that someone associates with people who may engage in questionable behavior or activities.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “friends in low places”

The idiom “friends in low places” is a popular expression used to describe people who have connections with individuals or groups that are considered undesirable or disreputable. This phrase has been used for many years, and its origins can be traced back to various historical contexts.

One possible origin of this idiom dates back to medieval times when castles had dungeons located beneath them. These dark and damp places were reserved for prisoners who had committed crimes against the king or queen. It was believed that only those with low social status would be found in these dungeons, hence the term “low places.” The few friends that these prisoners had were also likely to be from similar backgrounds, thus giving rise to the idea of “friends in low places.”

Another possible origin of this idiom comes from American history during the early 20th century. During this time, there was a significant divide between the wealthy elite and working-class citizens. Those who worked hard for their living often frequented bars and taverns where they could relax after a long day’s work. These establishments were considered by some as “low places,” but they provided an opportunity for people from different walks of life to come together and form friendships.

In modern times, this idiom is often associated with country music due to a popular song titled “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks. The lyrics speak about having friends who may not fit into high society but are loyal nonetheless.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “friends in low places”


The most common use of the idiom “friends in low places” is to refer to someone who has connections or friendships with people from a lower social class or status than themselves. It can also mean having friends who are considered undesirable or disreputable by society.

However, this idiom can also be used sarcastically or humorously to describe oneself as having friends who may not fit into traditional societal norms. In some cases, it can even be used as a form of self-deprecation.


Like many idioms, “friends in low places” has variations that are commonly used. One such variation is “birds of a feather flock together,” which means that people tend to associate with others who share similar traits or interests.

Another variation is “rubbing elbows with the wrong crowd,” which implies that someone is associating with individuals who have questionable morals or behavior.

In some cases, this idiom may also be altered slightly for comedic effect, such as saying “I have friends in high places…and they’re all skydivers!”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “friends in low places”


Some synonyms for “friends in low places” include having connections with people who are not well-respected or have a bad reputation. Other phrases that convey a similar idea include “birds of a feather flock together,” “rubbing shoulders with the wrong crowd,” and “guilty by association.”


On the other hand, antonyms for this idiom may include having friends who are highly respected or influential individuals. Phrases such as “moving up in the world” or “associating with high society” could be considered antonyms.

Cultural Insights:

The phrase “friends in low places” originated from country music lyrics but has since become widely used outside of that genre. In American culture, it often refers to someone who has close relationships with people from humble backgrounds or those who engage in questionable behavior. However, it is important to note that this idiom can carry negative connotations and should be used carefully when describing others.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “friends in low places”

Are you looking to improve your understanding of the idiom “friends in low places”? One way to do so is by practicing using it in various contexts. Here are some practical exercises that can help:

Exercise 1: Write a short story or dialogue where one character uses the idiom “friends in low places” to describe someone they know. Make sure to provide enough context for the reader or listener to understand what is meant by this phrase.

Exercise 2: Watch a TV show or movie and try to identify instances where characters use the idiom “friends in low places”. Take note of how it is used and whether there are any variations on its meaning.

Exercise 3: Use online resources, such as news articles or social media posts, to find examples of people using the idiom “friends in low places”. Analyze how it is used and what message is being conveyed.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “friends in low places”

When using idioms, it is important to understand their meaning and context. The idiom “friends in low places” refers to having connections with people who may not have a high social status or reputation. However, there are common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

One mistake is assuming that the idiom only applies to negative situations. While it can be used in a negative context, such as referring to someone who associates with criminals, it can also be used positively. For example, someone could say they have friends in low places if they know people who work hard but may not have prestigious jobs.

Another mistake is overusing the idiom or using it incorrectly. It should only be used when appropriate and relevant to the situation at hand. Additionally, it should not be confused with other similar idioms like “birds of a feather flock together.”

Lastly, it’s important to consider the audience when using this idiom. Depending on where you are and who you’re speaking with, some people may find the phrase offensive or inappropriate.

To avoid these common mistakes when using the idiom “friends in low places,” refer back to its original meaning and use it appropriately and sparingly.

Mistake Correction
Assuming only negative connotations Recognize positive uses as well
Overusing or misusing Use appropriately and sparingly
Not considering audience Avoid offending anyone by being mindful of your surroundings


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