Colloquialism — Definition and Examples

Daniel Bal
Written by
Daniel Bal
Edited by
Courtney Adamo
Fact-checked by
Paul Mazzola

What is colloquialism?

Colloquialism is a word or phrase used in informal speech within a specific language, geographic region, culture, or historical era. Colloquial language develops through the use of casual interactions between like-minded speakers.

Colloquialism helps authors create authentic characters and genuine settings through their dialogue:

  • Characters: Colloquial expressions allow an author to create authentic characters through their speech. By including language specific to a time, place, culture, or socioeconomic status, they can develop characters that accurately reflect the real world.

  • Setting: Colloquialisms allow authors to indicate the time and place by incorporating dialogue that helps identify the setting.

Differences between colloquialism, slang, jargon, and idiom

Colloquialism differs from other types of informal words like slang, jargon, and idioms.

Differences between colloquialisms and slang, jargon, and idioms
Differences between colloquialisms and slang, jargon, and idioms
  • Slang: Slang consists of words created by a culture or social group that becomes somewhat mainstream in everyday speech. They can be new words or current ones the group modifies by shortening them or removing letters, taking on a meaning that differs from its original. Slang words can appear and disappear from language; therefore, they often indicate specific time periods. Examples of slang words include the following:

Slang examples
Slang Meaning
GOAT greatest of all time
salty bitter; agitated
far out cool
square someone old-fashioned
YOLO you only live once

  • Jargon: Jargon references words or expressions used by a particular profession or group. Unlike colloquial language, jargon is mainly used within formal writing. Examples include the following:

Jargon examples
Profession/Group Word Meaning
Medicine idiopathic condition with no clear cause
Business 9-5 standard workday
Political earmark set money aside
Law Enforcement 10-4 okay; I understand
Military AWOL absent without leave

  • Idiom: An idiom is a phrase not meant to be taken literally. They are only understood by native speakers or someone who understands the language and culture from where it originates. Examples of idioms include the following:

Idiom examples
Idiom Meaning
a dime a dozen something common
break a leg good luck
easy does it slow down
hit the sack go to sleep
pull someone's leg to joke with someone

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Colloquialism examples

Colloquial words and phrases are either regional, modified contractions, or altered names of objects and family members.

Colloquialism examples
Colloquialism examples

Examples within these categories include the following:

Regional colloquialisms
Word/Phrase Regions
wicked northeast
soda; pop; Coke east and west; mid-west; south
sneakers; gym shoes; tennis shoes east and northeast; mid-west; south, central
jimmies; sprinkles northeast and mid-Atlantic; central, south, west
cookies; biscuits America; UK (American English; British English)

Modified Contractions
Word/Phrase Meaning
ain't am not, are not, is not
dunno do not know
gonna going to
gotta have got to
kinda kind of
lemme let me
wanna want to
whatcha what are you
y’all you all
yinz you (plural)

Everyday Objects
Colloquial Name Common Name
binky pacifier
buggy shopping cart
crick creek
lift elevator
nappies diapers
sweeper vacuum

Family Members
Colloquial Name Common Name
auntie aunt
bestie best friend
fam family
kin blood relatives
memaw grandma

Examples of colloquialism incorporated into literature include the following:

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger:

Protagonist Holden Caulfield uses colloquial language that helps identify his attitude as an American teenager, which helps to describe his defiant nature.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain:

As an author who incorporates colloquial style in the majority of his works, in Huckleberry Finn, Twain includes the use of "allowed," "sivilize," "dismal regular," and "lit out" to highlight Huck's lack of formal education.

Colloquialisms in literature
Colloquialisms in literature

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe:

Stowe utilized colloquial language ("go to rack," "s'pse," and "b'ar") to highlight how social status influences the way people speak; therefore, she was able to accurately reflect what was happening in the south leading up to the Civil War.