As a global language, English has many varieties. UK English, US English, and Australian English are examples. Then there are regional variations that, when combined with local accents, could sound like a completely different language. These variations are known as colloquialisms.
What Is a Colloquialism?
The word colloquial comes from the Latin colloquium, meaning “speaking together” or “conversation.” Therefore, a colloquialism (also called colloquial language) is a style of language used in casual communication in a specific region or country. It’s the everyday language you use when you’re not thinking about what specific style of language you want to use.
Colloquial language is the opposite of formal language, which evolves slowly and is recognizable anywhere in the world. It’s the language of business and academia. Colloquial language develops rapidly and is region-dependent. These types of language sit at opposite ends of the language spectrum, with plain language (or plain English) in the middle.
The Difference Between Colloquialisms, Slang, and Jargon
Many types of informal language exist, but the most common are colloquialisms, slang, and jargon.
Colloquialisms are used within a certain region, regardless of the speaker’s age, race, or culture.
Slang is used within a certain demographic, such as age, race, or culture.
Jargon is used within an occupation, industry, or activity.
Examples of Colloquialisms
Perhaps the most famous example of a colloquialism is the word for the food usually served with burgers. US English speakers would call them fries, but UK English speakers would call them chips.
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However, in the United States, chips (e.g., Lay’s potato chips) are the crunchy snack that comes in many flavors; in the UK, these snacks are called crisps (and Lay’s is called Walkers, just to add to the confusion).
Things get a bit more complicated when we cross over to Australia and New Zealand. Australian English speakers use chips for both items and rely on the context of the conversation to determine which they’re talking about.
Another example is the word for products such as Haribo, for which there are three words: candy (United States / Canada), sweets (UK/Ireland), and lollies (Australia / New Zealand). Although most people in the UK would understand candy, lollies causes more issues because in the UK, lolly is short for lollipop, a specific type of sweet, so any Australian or New Zealander who asked for a lolly in the UK would be given a lollipop.
Colloquialisms, or colloquial language, is used in casual conversation in a specific region or country. The United States, the UK, and Australia use different words to describe chips and fries. Colloquialisms are different from slang because they’re specific to a region rather than to a demographic. Understanding and using colloquial language can make your English sound more fluent and natural.