Colloquialisms: the best thing since sliced bread

colloquialisms

Colloquialisms, more often called slang, are a fascinating part of language. These words or phrases are most often spoken as opposed to written. We say them so often that we often fail to realize how bizarre they sound when taken out of context.

Nevertheless, colloquialisms are a great way to introduce some personality into your writing. However, take caution; these words aren’t always your best bet. Here’s how to do it well:

Send the right message

 A text’s tone sends clues to the reader preparing them for the content they are about to receive.  If you want your content to be lighter or more relatable, colloquial words or phrases can help achieve that. They’ll add the extra je ne sais quoi to your text.

Colloquialisms will make a piece of writing more casual. However, a casual tone isn’t always ideal. It’s important to remember that the tone serves as the medium that can either make or break the message. For example, when writing How to Deal with Loss, it’s best not to lighten the mood with colloquialisms such as: “it’s okay to feel cray on this sad day.”

Something about pairing an informal word choice with a serious topic confuses the mind and creates disconnect between the writing and the reader. Similarly, when writing comical content, why use stuffy, academic language?

Use colloquialisms informally

Colloquialisms, in general, are spoken. This can make it tricky to insert a casual colloquialism into your copy. For this reason, more formal copy should leave out colloquialisms all together. Adding slang words or phrases will distract from the serious content within the text.

colloquialisms

Even commonly used colloquialisms like the contractions “can’t,” “he’ll,” or “shouldn’t” are best left out of formal written texts. Just like a professor won’t appreciate seeing a “gonna” in a term paper, readers of serious texts will expect you to take the time to write out “going to.”

 

Know your audience

Colloquialisms aren’t just limited to contractions. They also serve as cultural clues that help readers identify who is speaking and the intended vibe of the writing. Colloquialisms differ in each region of the world, derived from the unique speech of the area.

Being from Chicago, my international friends tilt their heads when I utter a regional colloquialism. When I asked a friend to “pass me my pop,” she had no idea what I was referencing. I had to point to my can of Coca Cola, forgetting that Midwesterners may be the only people in the world who call soda “pop.”

In this sense colloquialisms may seem exclusive or limiting. However, they are a great tool when you have a specific audience in mind. If you want to appeal to millennials, be aware of all the epic colloquialisms this group identifies with. While millennials will understand what it means for something to be “legit,” they probably won’t know what to think about something that is “far out.”

Similarly, if you’re writing copy for “10 signs you’re from Madrid,” colloquialisms are a great way to gain credibility. It’s a waste to talk about las fiestas in Madrid when you can simply and more accurately refer to la marcha. When your content refers to a specific place, it’s worth it to research the colloquialisms and truly speak to your audience.

Translate with care

One of the trickiest aspects of using colloquialisms in content is that they are quite a handful to translate. Take the phrase “a handful.” When translating this phrase into another language, assume that both languages don’t use the same idiomatic expressions. The translator must be comfortable enough in both languages to decipher the correct meaning of each colloquialism and find its equivalent (if one exists) in the target language.

As confusing as colloquialisms and idiomatic expressions can be for language learners, they can offer invaluable insight into the cultural influence that gives context to every language. For example, observe the Spanish equivalent of “giving into temptation.” In Spanish, morder de la manzana prohibida translates as “to bite the forbidden apple.” While this may seem arbitrary to some, this reference to Eve biting the apple from a forbidden tree in the garden of Eden provides a crucial cultural context. It demonstrates the influence of Christianity on the Spanish language.

Colloquialisms are a rich part of language and a great way to add cultural references and style to your copy. The next time you’re wondering what will take your writing the extra mile, consider dropping in a colloquialism to blow your readers away.

Anna Castellanos
Anna Castellanos is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, Illinois. She has a degree in the Spanish language and International Studies and an appetite for great works of literature. Find her skeptically reading ingredients of various packaged goods at a supermarket near you.
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