A colloquialism is an expression not used in formal speech, writing or paralinguistics.


Colloquialisms are also referred to as colloquial language. Colloquialisms or colloquial language are considered to be characteristic of or only appropriate for ordinary, familiar or informal conversation rather than formal speech or writing. Some examples of informal colloquialisms can include words (such as "y'all" or "gonna" or "wanna"), phrases (such as "ain't nothin'", "dressed for bear" and "dead as a doornail"), or sometimes even an entire aphorism ("There's more than one way to skin a cat").

Dictionaries often display colloquial words and phrases with the abbreviation colloq. Colloquialisms are often used primarily within a limited geographical area. An example is for a soft drink. In the Upper Midwest, in common with parts of the United Kingdom, it is commonly called "pop", while in other areas it's "soda". In the Southern United States, it is commonly called "Coke". In some areas of Scotland it is referred to as ginger, and confusion over whether this term referred to all soft drinks or just ginger beer was apparent in the case of Donoghue v Stevenson.

Words that have a formal meaning may also have a colloquial meaning that, while technically incorrect, is recognizable due to common usage. For example, though biweekly is truly defined as "every other week", many dictionaries list both "twice a week" and "every other week".

Auxiliary languages are sometimes assumed to be lacking in 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 international colloquialism may be used in Interlingua. Expressions such as en las manos de... 'in the hands of...', ¿Qué pasa? 'What's going on?', are common.

Distinction between colloquialisms and slang

Some linguists make a distinction between colloquialisms and slangisms (slang words). According to Ghil'ad Zuckermann, "slang refers to informal (and often transient) lexical items used by a specific social group, for instance teenagers, soldiers, prisoners and thieves. Slang is not 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 Jewish female first name) and even formal status (e.g. English mob).


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