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Colloquialism is a word, phrase or paralanguage that is employed in conversational or informal language but not in formal speech or formal writing.[1] Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. as an identifier. Colloquialisms are sometimes referenced collectively as "colloquial language".[2] A colloquial name is a word or term used for identification that is employed in conversational or informal language but not in formal speech or formal writing.


Colloquialisms are often geographical in nature, and used in everyday speech. Words that have a formal meaning can also have a colloquial meaning.

Auxiliary languages are sometimes assumed to lack 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 used, international colloquialism may be used in Interlingua. Expressions such as en las manos de... ("in the hands of...") and Que pasa? ("What's going on?") are not uncommon.[citation needed]

An example of a colloquialism and how it migrates to other areas is the Indian phrase, "Please do the needful", meaning, "Please do what is implied and/or expected". As the global workplace expands, this once regional phrase is now being used outside the area in which it originated.[citation needed]

Distinction from slang[edit]

Some linguists make a distinction between colloquialisms and "slang-isms" (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 from jargon[edit]

Jargon is terminology that is especially defined in relationship to a specific activity, profession or group. The term refers to the language used by people who work in a particular area or who have a common interest. Much like slang, it is a kind of shorthand used to express ideas that are frequently discussed between members of a group, though it can also be developed deliberately using chosen terms.[4] Whilst a standard term may be given a more precise or unique usage amongst practitioners of relevant disciplines, it is often reported that jargon is a barrier to communication for those people unfamiliar with the respective field.

Distinction from dialect[edit]

The term dialect has two distinct meanings in linguistics. The first usage refers to a variation of a language that is characteristic of a particular group who speak the language.[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" and a regional dialect may be termed a "regiolect" or "topolect". The second usage refers to a language socially subordinate to a regional or national standard language, often historically cognate to the standard but not a variation of it or in any other sense derived from it. A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Staff (2012). "dialect"., LLC. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  6. ^ Staff (2012). "dialect". Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 

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