The strange phrasing in the first panel did not begin as intentionally strange. As is often the case with my mind brain, it was reminded of something, and tossed a quote at me.
That quote was "fish are friends, not food" from the movie Finding Nemo.
And because I heard that quote in my mind brain and thought "yes, good," Ashley thinks "are" instead of "is".
Only thing was, at that point, I only had "Grace are friend, not _____", so I had to actually think, and not just go off whatever random quote my mind brain was reminded of.
Thinking of single words I could put there, the only one I thought of that sort of fit while being one word was "waifu", a term often used by some to refer to fictional characters they like.
What exactly a person means by waifu will vary, but it's essentially the English word "wife" adopted into Japanese, so there are certain inherent implications there.
We're getting a bit tangential now, but when non-Japanese words are adopted into Japanese, they will likely sound different. Due to pronunciation and how things are written, there's not often a one-to-one match. Even if it sounds the same, the way its written will be based on sound, not on letter matching.
Waifu, for example, would be written with three Katakana characters: ワイフ. Wa, i, fu.
In many words, the "u" could be silent, so that really could just sound like "wife". Granted, I don't think I've ever heard it said with a silent "u" in context, so I've no idea if anyone actually does that.