What’s a Colloquialism?

A colloquialism is an informal word or phrase commonly used in everyday conversation and often specific to a geographic region. For example, the word “y’all” (you all) is commonly used in the southern US, but not necessarily elsewhere in the world. Sometimes, a colloquialism’s popularity is a bit more widespread, like “head over heels” (falling in love) or “elbow grease” (hard work).

While colloquialisms are acceptable in certain forms of writing, like fiction or creative writing, they’re widely discouraged in formal writing (e.g., resumes and business reports). As a proofreader or editor, it’s important to know their appropriate usage so that you can flag any issues with your client. Keep reading to learn more about when and how to use colloquialisms.

Colloquialisms in Writing

While largely considered informal, colloquialisms have their place in writing. It makes sense to use them in dialogue because they make the story seem more real and connect the characters to their geographic location. For example, a character who says this is likely to be identified as British:

  “That bloke is knackered after playing football all day.”

Colloquialisms are also used to establish a voice and can signal certain character attributes to the reader. For instance, a character that speaks like this might be seen as more laid back by the readers:

  “Move it along; I ain’t got time for that today.”

If you use too much formal language in fiction or creative writing, you might confuse or lose the reader’s attention. As a proofreader or editor, you should point out places where a client’s work could use more colloquial language.

When to Avoid Colloquialisms

Although colloquialisms can enrich dialogue and descriptions, they shouldn’t be used in formal writing. For example, colloquialisms have no place in academic writing, like essays, dissertations, and journal articles. As a proofreader or editor, you may have academics as clients who don’t realize that a word or phrase is too informal for the tone of their document. If you think this might be the case, it’s important to find a good replacement for a colloquialism or make a comment that calls attention to the problem.

Is a Colloquialism the Same as Slang and Jargon?

While a colloquialism is like slang or jargon, there are key differences. Slang is informal casual language that’s more common in speech than in writing. It’s often specific to different cultures and can evolve over time. For example:

  I love my birthday gift; it’s so groovy.

  What’s wrong? Why are you so salty today?

  I’ve known her forever; she’s my BFF.

As a proofreader or editor, if you notice your client uses slang too much or in the wrong way, you should flag it and suggest a rewrite or a different word.

Jargon is a word or expression associated with a specific profession or company, making it difficult for outsiders to understand. While proofreading or editing, you may notice the use of jargon in corporate, technical, or legal documents, and it’s generally acceptable if the intended audience is other employees or professionals in that field. However, if the work is meant for a broader audience, it’s best to point out alternatives to jargon to the client. 

Proofreading and Editing Courses

Colloquialisms can be a valuable writing tool when used correctly, and editors and proofreaders must know when and how to use them to best help their clients. If you want to learn more about how to spot errors in writing and ensure the appropriate written tone of voice, consider our Becoming A Proofreader and Becoming An Editor courses. If you haven’t already, claim your free trial today!

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