A colloquialism is an informal term or expression; something not considered formal or standard language. It is commonly used in casual conversation but usually not appropriate for more formal writing or speech. It is often regional in nature – vary depending on location, country, etc. Colloquial language tends to be more informal, familiar or relaxed terms compared to standard language. It involves shortened forms, slang, idioms, phrases, etc. rather than words generally found in a dictionary. It adds color, personality and local flavor to language but should be avoided in serious/professional contexts that require standard terminology.
Common Examples of Colloquialism in Everyday Speech
Here are some common examples of colloquialisms commonly used in informal, everyday speech:
- Gotta/Gonna – shortened forms of “got to” and “going to” (e.g. “I gotta get to work” or “We gonna be late”)
- Wanna/Woulda/Coulda – shortened forms of “want to”, “would have”, “could have”
- Hey/Whaddya know – used as casual greetings
- Buddy/Pal/Friend – informal terms to refer to a person
- No prob/No sweat – meaning “no problem” or “don’t worry about it”
- Kinda/Sorta – indicating something is somewhat or partly true
- Y’all – a southern colloquialism meaning “you all”
- Take a rain check – to postpone or cancel existing plans
- Chill/Chill out – relax or calm down
- Dude/Bro – used to address a male friend informally
- Wicked/Cool – expressing enthusiasm or approval
- My bad – admitting fault or apologizing
- Peace out/Later – casual ways to say goodbye
- Cray/Crazy – very or extremely (e.g. “I’m so cray tired”)
- Lit/Fire – expressing excitement or enthusiasm
Types of Colloquialisms
Following are the types of colloquialisms:
- Regional colloquialisms – Regional colloquialism refers to informal words, phrases or expressions. These are specific to a particular region or local area. Examples include “pop” vs “soda”, “bubbler” vs “water fountain”, “y’all”, etc.
- Social colloquialisms – Social colloquialisms refer to informal words, phrases or expressions. These words are used within a particular social group, subculture, profession or activity. Examples are: gaming lingo, sports fandom lingo, military slang, etc.
- Generational colloquialisms – Informal terms that are more common to a certain age group or generation. Slang tends to evolve with younger generations.
- Linguistic colloquialisms – Variations in pronunciation or grammar that are nonstandard but common in everyday speech. Examples include “ain’t”, subject-verb disagreement, dropped g’s, etc.
- Shortened forms – Contractions or abbreviations used for brevity. Examples include “gonna”, “wanna”, “kinda”, “IDK”, etc.
- Idioms – Figurative phrases with meanings different than the literal words. Examples include “kick the bucket”, “pulling your leg”, “raining cats and dogs”, etc.
- Slang – Very informal vocabulary from a particular domain or used by a certain demographic. Can include newly invented words, given new meanings, or play on existing words.
Colloquialism vs. Formal Language
Colloquialisms use informal and casual words. These phrases are not always found in dictionaries like slang, idioms, abbreviations. Colloquial speech may involve contractions, dropped letters/sounds, simplified sentence structure. The language has an informal or conversational tone. These are appropriate for everyday writing. Colloquialisms may not be universally intelligible outside their native context. On the other hand, formal language follows standard grammar rules. It maintains an elevated, serious and objective tone. Formal language is used for professional settings, official documents and academic works. It aims for clear understanding by all speakers. Formal conventions change more gradually through consensus.
Colloquialism vs. Slang and Jargon
Colloquialisms, slang and jargon all refer to informal or non-standard terms but they differ in terms of their usage and scope. Colloquialisms are generally informal words or phrases that are understood regionally or within a particular social group. They convey a casual or familiar tone. Slang takes informality a step further comprising transient and ever-changing vocabulary that exists outside normal usage. Slang terms may be considered taboo or vulgar to some. Jargon, on the other hand, is a technical terminology developed by and understood within a particular profession, activity or field of study.
Unlike slang, jargon serves the important function of precise communication among specialists. However, its terms would seem obscure or nonsensical to outsiders. Together these informal variants help shape distinct regional cultures and social circles through creative modifications to standard forms of communication. But their appropriateness depends on context and intended readership.
How Writers Use Colloquialisms
Here are some ways that writers commonly use colloquialisms in their work:
- To capture natural, authentic dialogue. Using casual terms and regional phrases helps dialogue between characters sound realistic and conversational.
- Colloquialisms are helpful to establish setting and character. The word choices can help immediately locate a story in a particular region, time period, social group or class through vocabulary.
- The colloquial words convey tone and mood. Informal language can lighten the mood, build rapport with readers or show humor/irony depending on context and usage.
- It is used as a stylistic device. Strategic use of colloquialisms adds color, texture and variety to writing compared to solely formal language.
- A character’s particular colloquialisms can reveal traits like background, education level, personality quirks or relationships to other characters.
- Incorporating terms from various communities shows awareness of diversity and allows more types of characters/narrators.
- Used judiciously, a well-placed colloquialism can surprise readers in a good way at pivotal moments.
- Writers must use terms their characters would naturally say while avoiding anything unnatural, confusing or offensive to general readers.
Examples of Colloquialism in Literature
1- “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
“It warn’t no time to say very much, so I didn’t talk back much; just answered up brief and lively whenever I got a chance, and took it on the run mostly.”
The colloquialism used is “took it on the run mostly”. This was a common idiomatic phrase in the 19th century American Midwest and Southern dialects meaning to do something quickly without stopping. In this context, Huck is explaining that there wasn’t much time to have a lengthy conversation. So when he did have a chance to respond to someone, he kept his answers “brief and lively” rather than engaging in an extended back-and-forth discussion.
He “took it on the run mostly” – responding swiftly while constantly moving from one task or interaction to the next, without lingering in one place for very long. This reflects Huck’s lifestyle as a boy living independently on the Mississippi River. Using this regional colloquial phrase, along with other elements of Huck’s informal first-person narration, helps Twain achieve verisimilitude by authentically representing the spoken language and perspective of his protagonist.
2- “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
“I shall always say what I like of him, and talk of him to whom I like best. If you do not like my manners, I will adopt them.”
The colloquialism is “I shall always say what I like”. In this context, it means that Lydia intends to openly express her opinions about others without restraint. Saying precisely “what I like” was an informal way of conveying one’s right to free speech in everyday conversation at the time. Lydia is responding defiantly to implied criticism of her flirtatious mannerisms from another character. She asserts that she will continue behaving however she chooses, “saying what she likes” of others and speaking of them to whomever she wishes.
If her conversational style is not appreciated (“If you do not like my manners”), she threatens that she will actively adopt an even more unrestrained manner of interacting (“I will adopt them”).
3- “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Come on,’ said Daisy, her voice registering one last protest, ‘we’ll be late to meet Jordan.”
Using the casual phrase “come on” reflected the informal, fast-paced dialogue of the 1920s New York setting. It is fruitful in capturing the contemporary social interactions between the characters.
4- “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
“You ain’t got good sense. It’s too soon.’ ‘It ain’t too soon. If it was ah year from now it would be too soon.”
The characters’ use of African American Vernacular English, like “ain’t” rather than “isn’t”, authentically represents the rural African American community in 1930s Florida that Hurston depicts. It immerses readers in the distinctive dialect of the story.
5- “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens
“Well, if that don’t beat everything!’ exclaimed Fagin, throwing up his hands.”
The exclamation “that don’t beat everything” was a common colloquial saying in 19th century London slang, reflecting the environment inhabited by Fagin and reflecting the period setting of Dickens’ classic novel.
6- “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
“You can cut out the Freudian bull,’ I said.”
Using the informal phrase “cut out the bull” was colloquial mid-20th century American slang that captures the rebellious teenage voice of the protagonist Holden Caulfield.
7- “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
“Ah ain’t triflin’ wid nobody.”
The character’s use of the African American Vernacular English phrase “triflin’ wid” authentically represents the distinctive dialect spoken in the rural black communities of the early 1900s American South portrayed in the novel.
8- “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
“You get on with your dust-carting!”
The exclamation uses Cockney rhyming slang of the time period (“dust-carting” meaning “pretending”). This colloquial phrasing helps transport readers to Revolutionary-era London and Paris settings.
9- “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
“Well, I ain’t a-goin’ without a squawk.”
The folksy phrase “without a squawk” reflects the Dust Bowl-era American Midwest dialogue and immerses readers in the voices of displaced farm workers in 1930s California.
Synonyms of Colloquialism
Following are common synonyms for the term colloquialism:
- Idiom – It is a expression, word and phrase that has different meaning from the literal definition. Idioms are often colloquial sayings used in everyday informal speech.
- Slang – Very informal words or expressions that are not considered standard English or appropriate for formal usage. Slang often originates in particular groups and changes rapidly over time.
- Dialect – Variations in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary particular to a specific region or group.
- Vernacular – It is a common language used by the ordinary people in a particular country, area or social group. The vernacular incorporates colloquial and informal terms rather than standardized language.
- Informal speech – Spoken exchanges that are relaxed and conversational as opposed to formal or technical discussions. Informal speech makes frequent use of colloquial phrases and terminology.
- Regionalism – Words, pronunciations and grammatical structures peculiar to a particular geographical area. Regionalisms encompass local colloquial expressions.
- Solecism – The use of an uncommon, unfamiliar or non-standard word or phrase, especially in place of more usual or proper terminology. Some colloquialisms may be considered solecisms in formal speech.
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