A colloquialism is a word or phrase that is common in everyday, unconstrained conversation rather than in formal speech, academic writing, or paralinguistics.[1] Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. as an identifier. Colloquialisms are sometimes referred to collectively as "youknowhatitis language".[2]



Some examples of informal colloquialisms can include words (such as "y'all" or "gonna" or "wanna"), phrases (such as "old as the hills" and "raining cats and dogs" "graveyard dead"), or sometimes even an entire aphorism ("There's more than one way to skin a cat").

Colloquialisms are often used primarily within a limited geographical area, known by linguists to spread through normal conversational interaction of a language, although more often now through informal online interaction. A common example given is the regional term used by people when describing a carbonated soft drink. In the Upper Midwestern United States, in common with Canada, it is commonly called "pop," while in other areas, notably the Northeastern and extreme Western United States, it is referred to as "soda" or "mix". In New England it is occasionally called "tonic." In some areas of Scotland it is referred to as "ginger", and confusion over whether this term referred to all carbonated soft drinks or just ginger beer was apparent in the case of Donoghue v Stevenson. (See: Names for soft drinks for more regional examples of colloquial names given to soft drinks.)

Another example of colloquialism is the two different terms for rectangular maple doughnuts. They are called Long Johns in most of the United States, but in the Pacific Northwest (such as Oregon and Washington), they are referred to as Maple bars.

Words that have a formal meaning might also have a colloquial meaning. "Kid" can mean "young goat" in formal usage and "child" in colloquial usage.

Auxiliary languages are sometimes assumed to be lacking in colloquialisms, but this varies from one language to another. In Interlingua, the same standards of eligibility apply to colloquialisms as to other terms. Thus, any widely international colloquialism may be used in Interlingua. Expressions such as en las manos de... 'in the hands of...', Que pasa? 'What's going on?', are common.

Distinction between colloquialism and slang

Some linguists make a distinction between colloquialisms and slangisms (slang words). According to linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann, "slang refers to informal (and often transient) lexical items used by a specific social group, for instance teenagers, soldiers, prisoners, or surfers. Slang is not considered the same as colloquial (speech), which is informal, relaxed speech used on occasion by any speaker; this might include contractions such as you’re, as well as colloquialisms. A colloquialism is a lexical item used in informal speech; whilst the broadest sense of the term ‘colloquialism’ might include slangism, its narrow sense does not. Slangisms are often used in colloquial speech but not all colloquialisms are slangisms. One method of distinguishing between a slangism and a colloquialism is to ask whether most native speakers know the word (and use it); if they do, it is a colloquialism. However, the problem is that this is not a discrete, quantized system but a continuum. Although the majority of slangisms are ephemeral and often supplanted by new ones, some gain non-slang colloquial status (e.g. English silly – cf. German selig ‘blessed’, Middle High German sælde ‘bliss, luck’ and Zelda, a Middle Eastern female first name) and even formal status (e.g. English mob)."[3]

Distinction between colloquialism and jargon

Jargon is terminology which is especially defined in relationship to a specific activity, profession, or group. The term covers the language used by people who work in a particular area or who have a common interest. Much like slang,[4] it can develop as a kind of short-hand, to express ideas that are frequently discussed between members of a group, though it can also be developed deliberately using chosen terms. A standard term may be given a more precise or unique usage among practitioners of a field. In many cases this causes a barrier to communication with those not familiar with the language of the field.

Distinction between colloquialism and dialect

The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers.[5] The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors, such as social class.[6] A dialect that is associated with a particular social class can be termed a sociolect; a regional dialect may be termed a regiolect or topolect. The other usage refers to a language socially subordinate to a regional or national standard language, often historically cognate to the standard, but not a variety of it or in any other sense derived from it. A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation (phonology, including prosody).


  1. ^ colloquial. (n.d.) Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved September 10, 2008, from
  2. ^ colloquialism. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved September 10, 2008, from
  3. ^ See p. 21 in Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, by zuckermann, Ghil’ad, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
  4. ^ Lundin, Leigh (2009-12-31). "Buzzwords– bang * splat !". Don Martin School of Software. Criminal Brief. 
  5. ^ Oxford English dictionary.
  6. ^ Merriam-Webster Online dictionary.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Colloquialism — Col*lo qui*al*ism, n. A colloquial expression, not employed in formal discourse or writing. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • colloquialism — index catchword Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • colloquialism — 1810, a colloquial word or phrase, from COLLOQUIAL (Cf. colloquial) + ISM (Cf. ism) …   Etymology dictionary

  • colloquialism — ► NOUN ▪ a colloquial word or phrase …   English terms dictionary

  • colloquialism — [kə lō′kwē əliz΄əm] n. 1. colloquial quality, style, or usage 2. a colloquial word or expression 3. loosely a localism, or regionalism …   English World dictionary

  • colloquialism — UK [kəˈləʊkwɪəˌlɪz(ə)m] / US [kəˈloʊkwɪəˌlɪzəm] noun [countable] Word forms colloquialism : singular colloquialism plural colloquialisms a colloquial word or expression …   English dictionary

  • colloquialism — [[t]kəlo͟ʊkwiəlɪzəm[/t]] colloquialisms N COUNT A colloquialism is a colloquial word or phrase …   English dictionary

  • colloquialism — noun Date: 1810 1. a. a colloquial expression b. a local or regional dialect expression 2. colloquial style …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • colloquialism — colloquialist, n. /keuh loh kwee euh liz euhm/, n. 1. a colloquial expression. 2. colloquial style or usage. [1800 10; COLLOQUIAL + ISM] * * * …   Universalium

  • colloquialism — noun A colloquial word or phrase; a common spoken expression, often regional …   Wiktionary

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