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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.

faceon 

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.

faceon 

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?”

VS

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?

 faceon 

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? 

  faceon 

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





Add a Comment:
 
:iconepoxxic:
Epoxxic Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Lol this is me XD The word(s) colloquial/colloquialism make up the majority of my everyday vocabulary
Reply
:iconblexluthor:
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.
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
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. 
Reply
:iconshadowedlove97:
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!
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2014   Writer
Yeah, nothing worse than not being able to understand
Reply
:icondragoeniex:
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.
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
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
Reply
:iconcronasonlyfriend:
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
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014   Writer
Ha yeah, i can see how informality works with your style here, excellent :D
Reply
:iconcronasonlyfriend:
cronasonlyfriend Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
^_^
Reply
:iconpalaikai:
palaikai Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014  Student Digital Artist
I don't mind seeing them, but I don't use them myself (but since most of what I write is sci-fi/fantasy, that's understandable). :lol:
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014   Writer
Fair point!
Reply
:iconworldwar-tori:
WorldWar-Tori Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   General Artist
Awesome article :la:
  • Do you think that using colloquialisms in stories adds or subtracts from the piece? I think it depends on the piece really :O I think it feels more appropriate in dialogue and conversation over written parts and descriptive sections.
  • Do you already use/avoid using colloquialisms in your writing? I do both; I try to avoid it if I'm trying to describe; but if it's someone talking I like to add it to make it feel "natural"... in a sense
  • How do you feel about reading stories with heavy regional dialects? I don't like it with "heavy", because it becomes extremely hard to understand if you're not used to the dialect. I think if you use some it's fine; but unless you're targeting one area with a specific type of dialect it'd be too much to use throughout an entire long story.
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
All very valid points :) 

I jus love accents
Reply
:iconworldwar-tori:
WorldWar-Tori Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   General Artist
I do too,
but unless they're described and used little to just enough they become a regular part of the dialogue and lose prominence in my opinion.
Reply
:iconexillior:
Exillior Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm not a huge fan of writing accents down as they sound, because if we did, and set a novel in Northern Ireland or Glasgow, none of the writing would make any sense. There are whole sets of cards here in Glasgow that say sentences in local accents, and you do have to take a few seconds to make sense of any of it. And once you do, you realise that's exactly what it sounds like. :B "Haw zit gaun" is one of my favourites, because that is exactly what the typical greeting is like here. It would take a while to realise that this is "How is it going", though.

So I think we should remember that although it adds characterisation, it also makes people spend ages trying to work out what's actually being said (because, let's face it, understanding an accent that we're hearing for the first time is tough, and if you do a good job of putting it down on paper, then people will likewise struggle to understand what they're reading), and that's not a good thing.

Some och's and wee's and aye's are inevitable, but I would keep it at that, personally. For the genuine Glaswegian experience one would have to spend a while studying the local dialect to read it smoothly. :P
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
True, all valid points :)
Reply
:iconlupina24:
Lupina24 Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
When used sparingly or in moderation colloquialisms can add to the texture and dimension of the setting and characters.

I normally use them in dialogue. I have a three characters who speak three different ways, one is very proper, rarely uses contractions such as 'isn't', 'don't', 'can't', 'aren't' etc., and uses an educated vocabulary. The second has a very laid back wording so I adopted a bit of a rural US Southern accent/diction. Thus, I tend to skip t's and drop g's off words with his dialogue; such as 'Lis'en, I'm  goin' to the store.' (Listen, I'm going to the store.). The third is as handful. 'English' is not the character's native speech I tend to use a simplistic vocabulary that expands, as well as misusing words, like confusing 'is' and 'be' and dropping articles of speech (a, an, the) and just to widen the language barrier the character also will use kennings (a metaphorical allusion to a noun) at times. the three never have a dull conversation someone's always asking for clarification or making assumptions about something.

Normally I find overabundance of regional dialect to be confusing or even irritating, especially when a character's entire dialogue is done in the dialect. Because what is written is not always how it sounds. A few key words that stand out in the dialect within the phrase and some colloquial wording is fine. How a character or narrator uses their words matters more to me than how the words sound.
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
That's good way to make sure the reader can always tell who's speaking, too :)
Reply
:iconlupina24:
Lupina24 Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Yep. It's a good way for me to develop characters, and reduce dialogue tags at some points without dragging or having to explain whom is speaking too much. I love just seeing their character come out through their speech, like when it's done well, readers can usually tell what emotions or qualities they possess just from the words they say along with their actions or quirks.
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014   Writer
Yep, exactly :D
Reply
:iconkarinta:
Karinta Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Student General Artist
Eh that's totes cool w/ me bro!
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
:D
Reply
:iconartmunki:
artmunki Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014
There's an important distinction to be made between using colliquialisms in dialogue, and using it in plain narrative text. Where dialogue is concerned, it would almost be wrong NOT to use at least some colloquial language somewhere in the talkie bits, because it's fairly rare to encounter anyone in the real world who doesn't use any colloquial language at all. There's certainly an argument for keeping it within certain practical limits so as to avoid alienating readers who might not be familiar with local dialect, but your point about character flavour is really quite important - the way a person speaks is a fairly central element of how their personality is projected, and using colloquialisms and quirky turns of phrase can go a long way to give your characters strong individual voices.

Using colloquial language in narrative text is a very different matter though. Narrative text is generally the voice of the author, not of a character, and unless you're deliberately aiming for a particular flavour in your writing, colloquialisms should generally be avoided. While peppering your dialogue with occasional quirks of dialect can be a definite boon to your characters, employing the same effect for the author's voice is only really appropriate when you're writing in first person; where the narrative text is actually delivered by a character rather than the author. There are of course exceptions to this - I can think of a few Scottish authors for example who employ some degree of dialect language very effectively - but as a general rule if the narrative is just how YOU are telling the story rather than how a character is telling it, it's usually best to avoid colloquialisms.

There's also the question of the setting for your story. If you're writing in a contemporary setting and all your characters are, say, aspirational middle class, then it might actually be appropriate to avoid colloquialisms entirely, even in the dialogue. But a story set in Glasgow with a bunch of scheme kids as characters would just come off as incredibly contrived without a fair amount of slang (not to mention swearing!). And then there's the far trickier question of invented worlds - again, you'd probably be fairly safe avoiding dialect where the upper classes are concerned (upper classes often see dialect as being "common", and thus beneath them), but slang and other colloquialisms are part of everyday speech among the lower classes everywhere, so you have to give thought to how you give such characters their own unique voice in a world where no-one's ever actually heard how normal people talk. This last aspect is something I don't think enough genre writers give enough thought to - on the rare occasion they employ colloquial language at all they generally just kinda substitute a real-world dialect they're familiar with, when it would really be more appropriate to invent their own local phrases and terms to use in dialogue. Obviously this has to be done carefully if you don't want to make the characters incomprehensible, but if done with care it can really add depth to your created world.
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
Hmm I've never thought about it in terms of a new world, I guess because all my own writing is set in the real world where it all already exists
Reply
:iconartmunki:
artmunki Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014
It's really just something I've been thinking about for a writing project of my own. Given that colloquial phrases in the real world can vary even from one side of a town to another (especially in the UK), I'm trying to come up with some original phrases which are unique to particular cultures of my invented world, but which are still comprehensible to the reader. And let me tell ye, it's no' easy!  ^_^
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014   Writer
Haha, i imagine it's not! Good luck with it :D
Reply
:iconartmunki:
artmunki Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014
I'm gunno need it!  ^_^
Reply
:iconbeadgcf17:
BeadGCF17 Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
It looks like this saying really is true: "Everything with moderation."

If it's not too confusing, I'd enjoy it more if it was there than if it wasn't. Especially with the more relatable characters, because I don't want some 17 year old teenager who talks with her friends to talk like she's reading an essay!

This is one of those times where the moderation kicks in:

"And so I said to her, O-M-G are you kidding me?"
that's better than this:
"And then, I toootally just said, like omigawsh you are waay cray gurl!"
and more relatable and realistic than this:
"So, then I said to her, 'Oh my gosh! Are you serious?'"
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
Haha, true.
Chuckling at "waaay cray" though.
One of my token (joke) phrases is "that shit cray" or "you cray cray".
Reply
:iconbeadgcf17:
BeadGCF17 Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
XD I try and avoid saying those things, so perhaps that's one of the ways people would be able to tell the difference between me and one of my friends if we were put in a story so we wouldn't need the tags.
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
Haha, i just do it for laughs
Reply
:iconbeadgcf17:
BeadGCF17 Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I can tell, but I know a lot of people in my school who honestly say it and mean it. Also, I have a friend who would also be easy to write without tags.. she almost always replaces some word in her sentences or when quoting songs with "chicken" or "fried chicken", which I find hilarious.
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
Haha :P
Reply
:iconbeadgcf17:
BeadGCF17 Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
One time in our choir class she even randomly belted out this:

"We found chicken in a KFC!"
instead of:
"We found love in a hopeless place"
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
That's hilarious... 

And i don't wonna be racist or anything, but is she black?


Sorry, it's just that me and Chaz (chaz is black) have a joke about black people and chicken. Because like, all black people love chicken. 
Reply
(1 Reply)
:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I like colloquialisms in stories, as long as they're done right! It really adds something - language is such a changing, varied thing, I like to see how people outside my area use things. :D 

I use them. They occasionally get me flames, but I like using them. 

Again, I like them. Language is awesome, and the ways people in different regions use it is awesome. Why wouldn't I want to read stories like that? 
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
I feel this way too!
*high five*
Reply
:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
*high five back* :D 
Reply
:iconchivi-chivik:
Chivi-chivik Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I fear finding texts and writings written with regional colloquialisms because then I won't be able to understand anything (I'm still practising English...) :fear:

But, in general, I'm fine with colloquialisms, as far as they're not overused and they're used properly. :nod:
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014   Writer
Yeah, i suppose it can be hard on non-native speakers
Reply
:iconchivi-chivik:
Chivi-chivik Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
It IS, there's no doubt about that. ^^;
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
I commend you for being able to speak another language, though :)
Reply
:iconchivi-chivik:
Chivi-chivik Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm trying! :noes: I have two native ones, but English is needed :(
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
Spanish and Catalan? 
Reply
:iconchivi-chivik:
Chivi-chivik Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Yeah! :lol: (How did you know that? :stare:)
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014   Writer
Your profile says Spain, and i know the whole Spanish/Catalan independence thing ;) 
Reply
(1 Reply)
:iconc-a-harland:
C-A-Harland Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Student Writer
I think having a small amount of colloquial language can work wonders, particularly in dialogue, as you've mentioned. However, I agree that when it is too thick, it can become overpowering. The worst case is when an entire book is written in a regional dialect which is so different from your own you can only grasp the meaning of every second or third line.
Good use of colloquialisms is when they are introduced gradually, and with clear context so the reader can pick up on what exactly the term/phrase is meant to mean.
Reply
:icondailybreadcafe:
DailyBreadCafe Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014   Writer
Agreed!
Reply
:iconeclecticquill:
EclecticQuill Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Student Writer
I wrote a poem about speech mannerisms, or about people trying to mimic them to be precise. Specifically the tendency of Londoners to drop H's and soften T's. I also use the colloquial "innit" a lot.

I think it's difficult to write with an accent or to reproduce certain speech mannerisms in text, so colloquialisms are great for giving a regional flavour to characters or literature as a whole. 
Reply
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