Meaning of ‘Like This Tiny Little Hitchhiker’

This Tiny Little Hitchhiker

Phoebe finds a thumb in her can of soda. Later, she tells her friends:

“I opened it up and there it was, just floating in there, like this tiny little hitchhiker.”

So, what is a hitchhiker, and why does Phoebe say this?

hitchhiker (also hitch-hiker or hitch hiker)

Someone who stands at the side of the road, and wants to get a ride from one of the drivers passing by.
The driver and the hitchhiker will almost always not know each other, and the ride will almost always be free.

Throughout the world, hitchhikers use different gestures to indicate that they would like a ride. In North America, hitchhikers stick out their thumb and point it upward.

When Phoebe looks inside the can, the thumb is prominently visible, and because the thumb is floating in the soda, it appears to be doing the same gesture as a North American hitchhiker.

Image of Hitchhiker in Hawaii, with thumb pointed upward.
Photo Credit: 'Hawaii / North Shore: Hitchin' a Ride', by Eli Duke
Image of Hitchhiker in Hawaii, with thumb pointed upward.
Photo Credit: ‘Hawaii / North Shore: Hitchin’ a Ride’, by Eli Duke

Origin of the word ‘hitchhike’

This is a joining of two words: hitch + hike.

hitch

noun The point of connection between a car and its trailer.

verb To connect or attach to a car or other vehicle.

Car with hitch and trailer
A Car with a Trailer and Hitch.
Photo Credit: ‘Retro VW Beetle Trailer’ by Erich Ferdinand

In the above image, the arrow is point at the hitch. The trailer is hitched to the car.

hike

to walk. Usually to walk a long distance, and with some difficulty.

definition and meaning of hiking
A hiker, hiking. This trail is often called a hiking trail.
Photo credit: ‘hiking’ by Big Cypress National Preserve

Therefore, to hitchhike means “to hike by hitching yourself to a car“.

Side Note: A Can of Soda

North Americans use different words for a can of, for example, Coca-Cola. In this episode of Friends, Phoebe calls it a can of soda. However, you’ll also hear North Americans say “a can of pop”, “a can of soda pop”, “a can of Coke” (even if the drink is not a Coke!), or just “a soft drink”.
It probably depends on where that person lives, and where they grew up.

This map, created by Alan McConchie, shows the difference by region.
You can visit his site for more details.

Pop vs. Soda - An Interactive Map, created and curated by Alan McConchie

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