Colloquialisms: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You may not know it, but you've run into colloquialism today. As a matter of fact, you're reading it right now! Read on to find out more about this way of speaking (or writing), along with some fun examples.

In a Manner of Speaking: colloquialism defined

Although it may sound like a complicated mouthful, colloquialism is something we all inherently understand because it is merely the form of speech used in everyday conversation. Derived from the Latin colloquium simply meaning 'conversation' or 'conference,' colloquialism refers to the words and phrases we use on a regular basis when we talk to our friends, family, and co-workers, or in other informal types of speech. Since we are not writing a term paper, delivering a quarterly report, or otherwise engaged in formal interaction ,we feel more comfortable with our use of language, and so the normal rules of grammar and even semantics (the meanings we assign to collections of words) don't apply.

Unless you're a grammar snob, the speech you use every day to speak with your best friend is probably riddled with various errors according to some 'standardized' form of the language. You may also notice that two best friends from another city or country may speak to one another somewhat differently than you do. This is because colloquial speech often depends on influences from a particular region or group of people, leading to many variations among different dialects, or forms of a language specific to where and by whom it is spoken (i.e. South African and British English).

Colloquialism then can encompass a wide range of linguistic phenomena: from something as simple as a contraction (i.e. ain't, y'all, or wouldn't've), to the use of profanity, slang, or idioms. Slang is a word or phrase that is often invented for or by a highly specific subset of the population and is subject to frequent change. For instance, many know the term Aussie that indicates someone or something from Australia, but Aussies also use slang to talk about their home, often referring to the country as Oz or Down Under.

Australian Shepherds are also called Aussies by members of the dog lover community.
Photo of Australian Shepherd sporting glasses
idiomidiomatic phraseWhat's up?Qué pasa?

Examples of Colloquialism

Act of Congress-Idiomatic phrase referring to a task that is unlikely to be completed, particularly in a timely manner.

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