You might be familiar with the word “colloquialism.” Even if you aren’t, there’s a good chance you use colloquialisms often, especially in your speech. They’re so common to us that we may not even notice them unless we come upon one we don’t recognize.
Let’s review the definition of colloquialisms as well as some examples.
What Is a Colloquialism?
A colloquialism is a familiar term or phrase that is used within informal communication. A colloquialism is often confused with an idiom, which is an expression that means something other than the literal interpretation of the words it includes. Colloquialisms differ from idioms in that they are more related to short forms and slang.
I ain’t in the mood to do that right now.
When are you gonna join us for lunch?
You have to taste this new ice cream. It’s the bomb [very good].
Colloquialisms also often represent the speech of particular U.S. regions, dialects, and eras.
All of the O’Connell children are wicked [very, really] smart. (Northeast)
Ope [oops, oh-oh]! I can’t believe I just did that. (Midwest)
Amelia said the noise came from over yonder [over there]. (South)
After three rounds, Miller had only the start of a blinker [blackened eye] in his bare-knuckle bout with the champ. (American 1800s)
In the case of words such as wicked, note that a colloquialism depends on its context. The word wicked would not be colloquial if its meaning in the sentence was its core definition of “morally bad; vicious; unpleasant; harmful”: All of the O’Connell children are wicked troublemakers.”
Types of Colloquialisms
As you can see, colloquialisms typically appear as words or phrases.
Colloquial words have alternate or implied meanings:
My uncle bought a pack of smokes [cigarettes].
Sandra was feeling blue [sad] all weekend.
That used-car dealership sold my brother a lemon [a car that runs poorly].
Colloquial phrases work the same way:
If you’re so thirsty, why don’t you just get you [get yourself] some water?
The lawyers were fixing to leave [preparing to leave] before the company changed its stance on the transaction.
Those preppy* girls are so stuck up [conceited]. (*having the look or manner of a student at an expensive preparatory-school characterized by wealth and privilege)
How to Use Colloquialisms in Your Writing and Speaking
Now that you understand more about what colloquialisms are, you might even be able to think of some you use often. The key with colloquialisms is recognizing the right time to apply them.
Colloquialisms can add color, familiarity, and even humor to how you express yourself. However, mindful communicators will be careful not to misuse or overuse them. If you are going to include colloquialisms, you should be sure that your audience will understand them, particularly if you are speaking to people from a different region or generation. You also won’t want to infuse your informal writing or speech with too many ain’ts and gonnas at the risk of sounding careless.
Lastly, you will rarely if ever use colloquialisms in formal or academic works unless they serve a specific function, such as quoting or paraphrasing a source.
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