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Difference between colloquialism and slang

It regularly comes to attention that people commonly use the words colloquialism and slang as synonyms, unwittingly taking them to mean the same thing. The similarity is that both are spoken forms of the language, and both use informal vocabulary. It is important to keep in mind that they are two distinct forms of language with differences in a variety of aspects related to usage. 

So what is colloquial language? It refers to the informal use of language consisting of words, phrases and aphorisms used by common people. See it as a form of everyday use of language, commonplace parlance in other words, which is more appropriate in the conversational form or the speech form.

It’s important to keep in mind that colloquial language is more formal than slang as it does not come across as offensive as the latter.

Difference between colloquialism and slang

Take a look at these examples of colloquialisms

  • Word:  “Wanna head to the beach today?” (Want to…).
  • Phrase: “Hey, what’s up? Whatcha doin’ this weekend?” (What are you doing…).
  • Aphorism – “A bad penny always turns up.” (Someone or something unwelcome will always reappear or return).

I am pretty confident you have heard such language if you’ve already been in the presence of native speakers. Perhaps at times wondering what they were actually saying and feeling left out.

Let’s take a closer look at slang now. This refers to a very informal type of language usually spoken rather than written, and commonly used in specific social groups such as soldiers, teenagers, professions and those who know each other well.

Slang is more casual than colloquialisms and since it consists of very informal words, if it is used on people who do not use that type of language, it can be construed as offensive. Note that slang evolves quickly as words are created by users; some words and expressions can disappear from the language as fast as new ones appear making it hard to keep up.

Here are a couple examples of slang

  • Old fogey (old person)
  • Bee’s knees (to express something is excellent)
  • Skiving (to express avoiding work or school)

So in a nutshell, both colloquialism and slang are spoken forms of the language. Both use informal words and expressions. Slang is more informal than colloquial language. Slang is predominantly used by certain groups of people while colloquial language is used in every day speech by ordinary people.

As if you didn’t already have enough to learn while trying to master the art of speaking English, you’ll probably need to learn to use or at least understand some colloquialisms and slang… You will hear them all around you in every day communication and when you are conversing with natives… you might not learn these as part of an English course, but you can certainly find plenty of information online. Personally I find that colloquialism enhances the language and that slang just waters it down… 

Here are some of the most common terms used in informal conversation in the UK to start you off:

  • A cuppa – A cup of tea – Dad poured mum a cuppa, it had been a long day in the office!
  • Bits and bobs – Bits and pieces – I went to the shop to get some bits and bobs to prepare dinner.
  • Chuffed – Happy – The kids were really chuffed to go to Disney for the weekend!
  • Gutted –Disappointed – Peter was gutted when he failed his driving test.
  • Hammered –Drunk – John was so hammered we had to help him walk!
  • Miffed – Annoyed – Tim’s mother was miffed when he answered back.
  • A quid – A pound sterling – This t-shirt only cost a couple quid, I got it on sale!
  • Sarnie – Sandwich – I like a good tuna sarnie for lunch!
  • Stuffed – Too full to eat anymore – I’m too stuffed to eat any pudding.
  • Take the Mickey (out of someone) – Make fun of someone – Stop taking the Mickey, it’s not funny anymore.
  • Shattered – Very tired – John was so shattered after work, he went straight to bed!
  • Veg – Vegetables – We will have a roast chicken with meat and veg for Sunday lunch.

Got it? Put it into practice without further ado!