What is Colloquialism?

A colloquialism is a slang or vernacular term that stands out in piece of writing that has consistently higher diction. Students may recognize the term, which some teachers abbreviate as “coll.” when grading essays.

Although you should avoid it in formal essay writing, colloquialism is an important way to identify people’s regional or national heritage. “Schweitzerdeutsch” is the German dialect spoken in parts of Switzerland, and “Québécois” is the French dialect spoken in Canada. The development of spoken colloquialisms is one of the main things that sets these dialects apart from the written language.

A colloquialism can have great connotative value, as when President Obama used the slang word “fiddy,” instead of “fifty,” in a speech to a group in Alabama. His strategy was to connect with the largely African-American audience by reminding them that, despite his position of power, he was still one of them.

How Do You Identify Colloquialism in Writing?

In literary works, dialogue is the place where colloquialisms most often crop up. Writers like William Faulkner, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens demonstrate the differences among various social classes by using colloquialisms. By doing so, they impart realism to their works.

If slang occurs in the narrative itself, it generally reflects a writer’s humorous attitude toward a particular character or situation; unless the work is in first person, the narrative maintains a consistently higher diction than the dialogue.

Examples of Colloquialism

Colloquialism Example 1. The phrase, “Say it ain’t so” uses a popular colloquialism, ain’t (the contraction of “am not”).

Colloquialism Example 2. “Conniption,” as in “conniption fit,” means a strong emotional reaction. The word originated as slang about two hundred years ago and has slowly made its way into the American language.

Colloquialism Example 3. “Crib” is a colloquialism for one’s own space.

Colloquialism Example 4. “What’s the buzz” is a colloquial way of asking what’s new.

Colloquialism Example 5. A “crapshoot,” which originally came from the game of dice, is a risky or uncertain venture.

Colloquialism Example 6. A “bae” (“before anyone else”) is a significant other.

Colloquialism Example 7. In the last century, “moxie” and “grit” were colloquialisms for bravery. Now we might say someone has “nerves of steel.”

(View all literary devices)