What is an inappropriate colloquialism?
As you work to become a better, stronger writer, you may succumb to some common writing errors.
You probably already know you should avoid passive voice and check your work carefully for spelling errors, what about other problems?
A common error in writing is the use of colloquialisms.
Here's a closer look at what colloquialisms are and how they can sneak into your work to keep it from being strong and to the point. We'll also provides some examples of colloquialism and inappropriate colloquialism.
So, put the thesaurus away and let's dive in.
What Is a Colloquialism? With Examples
According to Merriam-Webster, a colloquialism's definition is “a colloquial expression.” To understand this definition, you must also understand what colloquial means.
The dictionary defines this adjective as “used in or characteristic of familiar and informal conversation.” In other words, a colloquialism is an informal, familiar expression.
Colloquialisms tend to be specific to geography. What makes sense to people in one part of the world may not make sense to others outside of that area, even if they speak and read the same language.
For instance, Americans call a large vehicle a truck, while British speakers call it a lorry. Both words mean the same vehicle.
Definitions can be boring though. To better understand colloquialisms, look at some common examples:
- Gonna – going to
- Buzz off – go away
- Feeling blue – sad
- Bamboozle – to deceive or swindle
- Bae – newer colloquialism that means boyfriend or girlfriend
Another example of colloquialism is the way people refer to carbonated beverages. In some parts of the country, people call them soda. In others, people call them pop. Some areas call all flavors Coke, even though it is the name brand for one particular cola.
As you can see, these are all informal words that people use in everyday speech.
Why is a Colloquialism Used?
Speaking colloquially is common in everyday interactions. In writing, however, it has specific usages. Below are times when you can use colloquial language:
When writing a first-person narration, colloquialisms are appropriate. Using familiar and informal language helps the character feel more like a real person. Their language can help capture clearly for the reader a dialect that defines the character, including where they're from.
Colloquialism expressions are good tools to use in poetry. They can give the writer more rhyming words to choose from, and they give the poem a more local flare.
Depending on your writing style, colloquialisms are personable and sometimes appropriate for example while blogging.
However, writers should know their audience and whether they'll understand the colloquialism in question.
What Is Colloquial Language?
Colloquial language is informal, conversational, spoken language. Here are some examples of colloquial language:
- “Whatcha doin' this weekend?”
- “Hey, check this out!”
- “He ain't up to no good.”
- “How ya doin'?”
- “I'm gonna Google it.”
These are phrases you may use in everyday speech and in familiar conversions. However, you'd rarely use these particular words in formal writing, for example on a job application letter.
Slang words and aphorisms are also a type of colloquialism.
Cliches can also fall under the category of colloquial language. Cliches are phrases like:
- “As luck would have it”
- “Time will tell”
- “Water off of a duck's back”
These are overused and common in speech and should not show up in formal writing because they are not specific or original.
Finally, idioms can be a type of colloquial language. Examples of these include:
- “Better bite the bullet”
- “Beat around the bush”
- “Miss the boat”
- “On the ball”
When Are Colloquialisms Inappropriate?
Colloquialisms aren't appropriate in most forms of writing, especially when trying to convey the sense of being an educated professional.
Because colloquialisms detract from the serious effect or feeling you're trying to impress upon your reader. Informal language can make you seem imprecise in your work and elicit a poor first impression.
Also, colloquialisms can be misunderstood if the reader isn't from a similar geographic area as you. Because great writing should clearly convey your message, avoid using them and potentially confusing readers.
In short, avoid colloquialisms in:
- Academic writing
- Job applications
- Some types of articles
- When the subject matter is serious or involves life and death
What is the Difference Between Slang and Colloquialism?
Colloquialism and slang are fairly similar. Both are informal ways to converse; however, slang, unlike a colloquialism, tends to belong to a specific age group.
For instance, it's common for teenagers to have their share of slang words that don't make sense to the adults around them.
A teenager might say that a party was “lit,” which means very cool, but an adult likely would not. Colloquialisms, however, all age groups understand, but they fit specific geographic areas.
Determining the difference between slang and colloquialisms requires some study.
examples of colloquial and slang words
Slang words are even more informal than colloquialisms. They're also pretty common in every day spoken language. For example:
- The term “GOAT” is a slang word that describes the Greatest of All Time.
- “Sound” (in Ireland) describes somebody you find agreeable
- “Woke” refers to an individual who is more aware of social issues
Unlike colloquial language, slang words can also be offensive depending on the context. For example, consider these english slang words:
- “He's a Paddy” – An Irish person would find the term “Paddy” offensive unless spoken by another Irish person.
- “She's a gym rat” – A fitness enthusiast would find the term “gym rat” disagreeable.
Most swear words are examples of slang too.
If in doubt, avoid slang words in any type of formal writing, for example journalism, academic writing, business articles and so on.
The Final Word on Inappropriate Colloquialisms
Defining your preferred style of writing is more important than strictly following grammar rules about particular words.
If you're writing fiction, for example, it's ok to use slang words and colloquial language. Just remember to ask a native speaker if you're using the slang word or colloquial language in the right context.
However, if you're preparing a big report to send to a bunch of executives eliminate this type of language altogether. Similarly, these terms don't belong in most forms of academic writing, like a thesis.
If you want to strengthen your message, consider using a grammar checker like Grammarly or ProWritingAid. They will identify some inappropriate colloquialisms even if you're writing in British English or American English.
That said, use your best judgment based on your understanding of the audience and text. It's also a good idea to work with an editor for longer pieces of work.
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