Colloquialism uses informal words and phrases within a dialect to include aphorism, idioms, profanity, or other words that occur regularly in daily speech. Spoken by a specific group, dialects are a language within a language that uses unique words, slang, and accent.
Additionally, colloquialisms pop up frequently in poetry, prose, and drama, especially concerning dialogue or first-person narration. This gives characters a more lifelike quality because a character’s voice is one of their defining features.
This literary tool is used in two main ways. First, some colloquialisms are words or phrases that only appear in a specific dialect. For example, in my hometown, Syracuse, NY, we call white-hot hotdogs coonies. We are the only place in the world that call them that because we’re stubborn, and that’s what they’re called.
Second, these words and phrases appear widely but have different meanings amongst certain dialects. For example, in Oklahoma, the word coke refers to any kind of soft drink, while in most other states, it refers to the brand Coca-Cola. The first time my husband ordered a Dr Pepper after we moved here: “Hey, I want a coke.” “What kind?” “Dr Pepper.” It absolutely flabbergasted me. Still does.
These can also include contractions (y’all) and profanity (bloody) and idioms (“That thing is all cattywampus,” a version of caddy-corner).
Colloquial expressions allow literature to reflect a writer’s society, how people talk in their real lives, and this helps writers form strong connections with readers via realism.
Slang and jargon help with this kind of realism and are sisters to colloquialism, although overlap can occur. The differences are that slang is used within a specific social group, like teens, and colloquialisms are understood across demographic barriers. And jargon is also used only by certain groups, like doctors, accountants, lawyers, and writers! Yeah, go on and talk about the POV in your WIP or the issues you’re experiencing between the Beta and ARC stages of the process, then watch as people’s eyes glaze over with confusion.
With all of that in mind, here are a couple lists of common colloquialisms:
- to bamboozle – to deceive
- go bananas – go insane or be very angry
- wanna – want to
- gonna – going to
- go nuts – go insane or be very angry
- look blue – look sad
- buzz off – go away
- penny-pincher – a stingy person
- I wasn’t born yesterday – I’m not an idiot.
- There’s more than one way to skin a cat – There’s more than one way to complete this task.
Now, employing this device will often stand out to the reader, but writers are cautioned away from overusing easy dialectal cues, like dropping the “g” at the end to create a Southern twang, since it’s diction that creates vernacular, not stylizing words.
We’re goin’ to the store. A generic dropped “g” that may indicate a country or southern accent, albeit, not well.
We’re fixing to go to Walmart. Note that I didn’t change anything about the words, but it has a hell of a lot more voice to it because of the dialect.
By the way, this kills me since fixing is one of my least favorite words. I really live in the wrong state to make this argument though.
But when colloquialism is used well, readers will find the story and its characters more genuine. In fact, many authors use colloquialisms unconsciously in their writing.
Some of my favorite colloquialisms and like devices define my side characters: how Vincent’s Australian accent peeks through via idioms, like “what are you having a wobbly about?” or how he refers to females a sheila. How Boden doesn’t use articles and confuses his prepositions because English is his third or fourth language. How most of my slang comes from Ari, like her use of “bitch trip” for a group trip to the girls’ bathroom.
My paranormals also have their own words, like renegades being new, unauthorized vampires; bosex taking place of the shifter; and claims meaning the control of a full-fledged vampire has over the renegade in their charge. Most of how I used these devices aren’t strictly adhering to satirical standards, but I do so love to mess with genre norms that they seem fitting.
Do you use colloquialism in your writing? Tell me in the comments below.