In the TV show Friends, there is the following conversation:

— Did you ask him?
— No, I haven't had a chance yet.
— I'm kind of on a clock here.
— Oh, Fonzie.
— You know who I always liked? Mork.

So what does on a clock mean? Does it mean "in a hurry"?

  • 3
    To be on the clock means to be working. When you start your work for the day you clock in and at the end of the day you clock out. Thus one can calculate the time you've worked that day. Apr 12, 2012 at 13:05
  • Thank you. The situation is that Phoebe is giving birth. So she is in labor. So do you think she's playing around with the phrase "in labor" ? Because I just realize from what you told me that, "on the clock" means working, and hence in labor ? Apr 12, 2012 at 13:14
  • 4
    If used with the indefinite article ('a'), the phrase simply means the person speaking is under time pressure of some sort. It doesn't necessarily mean that person is working, and no puns on labor would be implied. If used with the definite article ('the'), it normally means the person is, as Armen says, working.
    – Robusto
    Apr 12, 2012 at 13:45
  • 1
    I'd add to Armen: To be "on the clock" means that you are working, i.e. that someone else is paying you to work for him, and thus it would be dishonest to engage in personal business. "Sorry, can't chat with you right now, I'm on the clock."
    – Jay
    Apr 12, 2012 at 14:37
  • 1
    You're saying the person who says "I'm on a clock here" was in labor? (Sorry, I never watched this program.) I think the implication, then, would be that, like someone who is supposed to be working cannot take time off to chat, she's busy delivering the baby and so can't take time off. Maybe the writer was thinking of a pun on "labor", but I'd guess was simply thinking of "busy with a more important responsibility".
    – Jay
    Apr 12, 2012 at 14:40

2 Answers 2


I remember this scene vaguely. Phoebe was basically saying she didn't have much time left since she had already gone into labor. What she wanted was for Rachel (or was it Joey?) to ask Frank if she could keep one of the triplets she was having for him (yes I'm a major Friends geek). The question obviously had to be asked as soon as possible.

So basically being "on a clock" in this context means not having much time left for an action to be taken, or being in a hurry, as you said.

  • "We're on a clock. 30 minutes." from Terminator 5, Genisys. This is what Kyle says as Pops(Arny/Terminator), Sarah and Kyle enter an underground bunker for arming and kicking Skynet's butt.
    – Arman
    Dec 13, 2015 at 11:32

There are two slightly different meanings; "on the clock" normally means that you are working or that the time is costing you something. By analogy to being clocked-in at work or to a taxi/cab meter running.

But "against the clock" or "up against the clock" is used when you are working against a deadline - as in this case.

From a strictly accurate point I would say the line in the show should have been "I'm up against the clock here"

  • wow so many answers i can't judge anymore. and I can't find the original script neither. But i'm pretty sure it's just on a clock Apr 12, 2012 at 15:14
  • @osager - probably, but American sitcoms aren't necessarily the gold standard for correct writing! Also phrases and idioms vary with time, region and dialect
    – mgb
    Apr 12, 2012 at 15:21
  • In New York English, especially informally spoken (specifically a Brooklyn accent), a "the" following a word ending in "n" will often be pronounced as if it were n-schwa, giving the resultant sound of, "Hey, I'm onnuh clock here," with an emphasis on "clock" and a rising tone from "on" to "clock". Apr 14, 2012 at 2:26

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