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Submitted on
January 23
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Colloqualism: You down with it?

  • Noun: colloquialism;

A word or phrase that is not formal or literary and is used in ordinary or familiar conversation. synonyms: slang, idioms, patois, dialect.

Examples: whatcha, gotta, face on, ovver.


I’m sure you’ve had a good telling off by your teachers for using colloquial language inappropriately in your writing. I’ve had essays returned with the word “too informal” scrawled along the margin or a big red exclamation mark next to a certain word, who hasn’t? What just me? Oh right… my bad!

So WHY would we use colloquial language in our writing, after years of tackling the angry red pen?

  • Characterisation

I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its over – or a person by their accent – but it happens. You can tell us a lot about a character by the kind of language they use. Are they all gangsta, dropping hooded verbs like they livin’ in the ghetto? But hold on – wait? What if this character’s parents start to speak and it becomes quite apparent that they’re an upper class family. Do we have some inner conflict on our hands? Rebellion? Identity/big man issues?

  • Localisation

Any (decent) English person will tell you that hearing the word “the” in Yorkshire is about as rare as finding a British household in which there are no teabags – if it happens, the whole world has gone to pot. These kinds of speech patterns can give your story just as much setting as describing the trees across the dales would. Another example, any English speaking person could say “Oh, that’s a beautiful baby!” but what if all the characters are agreeing that “aye, he’s a fine wee bairn”? It’s safe to assume that we’re in Scotland.

  • Set the tone

There’s nowt I love more than when a little bit of language sets the tone for the piece. This doesn’t just have to be in 1st person narratives, but could be in 3rd person too. Get into the swing of a character – how would they tell the story? The voice telling the story should not be the author’s voice; it should be the narrator’s voice.

  • Because it’s just funny

How many times have you cracked up because of the words that someone’s used rather than what they’ve actually said? My dad once told my brother to shut his “bumbaclart crapsnap” (translation: mouth) and I still laugh about it to this day.


I can tell that everyone’s itching to get their writing pens out but wait – How do we use them in our writing?

  • Sparingly 

I’d just like to say that before we go any further. I mean, if it fits the tone of your piece, then go for it but don’t go over the top by laying it on thick in every line. Also beware of going a little too far and completely excluding readers who aren’t from a specific region.


  • Dialogue

This is probably everyone’s first place to put colloquial language and it can do wonders for characterisation. A general rule with dialogue is that you should be able to tell which character is saying what even without the tags. You could facilitate this by assigning characters certain phrases or words that they repeat – such is life; my cousin says “d’ya know whatta mean?” at the end of literally every sentence.

  •  Narrative Voice

Bob turned, crimson faced, and said, “What did you just say to me?”


Bob turned round and gave him a right look, proper red faced, bulgy veined and the LOT. And then he said, he said, “What did you just say to me?”

I’m sure you get my point.


  • Narrative slip

What I mean by this is if you don’t want to go all out, you could just slip in the odd word here and there. Imagine if you use the Welsh word “cutch” instead of “cupboard under the stairs”. This is also another word for “cuddle” and “safe place”. Awhh, how much more homey does that sound now?


So there you have it. I hope you've all got your slang on to start banging out stories with fantastic colloquial language. If not, well, you suck it’s not compulsory anyway!


  • Do you think that using colloquialisms in stories adds or subtracts from the piece?
  • Do you already use/avoid using colloquialisms in your writing? 
  • How do you feel about reading stories with heavy regional dialects? 


Challenge: Go through this journal and find all the colloquial phrases I’ve slipped in. 

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Epoxxic Featured By Owner 6 days ago  New member Hobbyist General Artist
Lol this is me XD The word(s) colloquial/colloquialism make up the majority of my everyday vocabulary
blexluthor Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014
This is a pretty solid lesson on using colloquialisms in writing, but I also think you need to be very careful in using slang, not just because you might alienate your audience or draw them out of the story so they can pick up on all the spit you be droppin' on them but also because you can come off as ignorant of the culture/subculture you're trying to represent in your writing. For instance, my old roommate is white and I'm black and every foray he's had into our patois has been unintentionally hilarious for me. We're both avid music fan and I've introduced him to a lot of hip-hop and he's introduced me to a lot of metal and classic rock. One time we were talking about rappers and, getting into it quite a bit, he said to me, "Seriously doe, etc., etc., etc.," and I couldn't help laughing. See, the phrase is "really doe", but from where he sits there is no difference between the two. He's also been thoroughly confused by the difference between when I've "been done working" and "done been working". To me, a "bumbaclaat badman" and a "bloodclaat badman" couldn't be more different, to him they are indistinguishable. Had he been writing and I read any of those he would have broken my immersion with the piece, yadadameen? When you're writing fantasy or sci-fi or anything else where the world and culture is yours to create colloquialism can be a rich tool to diversify your world and characterize different cultures and it can do the same in non-speculative fiction, but the slightest slip up when you use real cultures can completely ruin the effect.
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2014   Writer
Yeah, this is why i don't suggest writing any slang that you don't know. Some other people have said about searching youtube to watch videos etc, but to be honest i probably wouldn't use any slang from a dialect that i personally haven't been immersed in, whether that's having friends that speak like that or living in the area. 
ShadowedLove97 Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014  Student Writer
  • Do you think that using colloquialisms in stories adds or subtracts from the piece?
I think it depends on how well it was handled. If done right, it can add a bit of flare, but if done wrong it's really annoying and hard to understand if trying to imitate regional dialect.
  • Do you already use/avoid using colloquialisms in your writing? 
I use it sometimes, but usually only in first person or in dialogue. I think if you don't use them in dialogue, then the characters sound stiff and it seems unnatural. It can also takes away important characterization. (I tend to stay away from regional dialogue, though, until I've done thorough research since I'm afraid of messing it up really badly. And by thorough research I mean search youtube.)
  • How do you feel about reading stories with heavy regional dialects? 
I don't mind it as long as I can still understand what's happening. If it is laid on too thickly then it annoys me. Again; everything in moderation!
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2014   Writer
Yeah, nothing worse than not being able to understand
dragoeniex Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014
I enjoy reading stories with tasteful colloquialism, but I try to stay away from using it myself. On one hand, I don't want to date myself. (Because, y'know, my works are all masterpieces that are going to be read by lots of people for years to come. o.o ) For regional dialogue, I'm just afraid I'll misrepresent how things are said in a certain place. It seems like a lot of research would go into using it correctly.
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014   Writer
I don't rely on research, i rely on my own experience in those places. I like to travel around and i like to talk to people. I love accents so i just like to hear them a lot :D
cronasonlyfriend Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Haha! The cats were killing me!!!

Lol, on a more serious note, actually pertaining to the journal, I love colloquialisms, especially in dialogue ^_^ I also loved your reference about "a beautiful baby" versus "a fine wee bairn." This kind of language is what made me love the book "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon. I felt like I was there, able to hear all the regional voices distinctly in my head.

My novel-in-progress, 'Dance of Shame,' a fantasy novel about a boy born out of wedlock, yadayadaya.... Anywhooo, it was originally in third person, and I was almost halfway finished with it before I decided to re-write it in first person perspective. I found that perspective much more interesting, though it's a lot more work.

I still laugh whenever I look back over the first few chapters and my character says, in his thoughts, "Honric really was loosing his baskets! Oh holy Huraad, he was speaking such gibberish as to make the pigs dizzy! I would have laughed, had I not seen the stranger’s face, which had formed into a hardened mask of anger."

This contrasts greatly with my other character, who's speech is very formal, as he is a prince.

Very cool article :) Thanks
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014   Writer
Ha yeah, i can see how informality works with your style here, excellent :D
cronasonlyfriend Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
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