We recently reviewed The Goldfinch for our monthly suggested book club and I was unhappy with Donna Tartt for choosing English colloquial terms and idioms in her book when it was obvious it should not be there. Not to nit- pick, I loved The Goldfinch except where she put the idioms in.
It got me thinking about the impact of slang, idioms and colloquialisms in books and how important it is to use it properly.
Using the correct usage of an expression, language, dialect or a particular way of speaking for people can make the book and its characters realistic and believable.
Using idioms not common to a particular country just makes the author a show off and will frustrate the reader.
Not everyone will know what the difference between slang, idioms and colloquialism. Writers and word buffs may know the following terms but for those that are a little rusty or don’t know, I will explain the terms.
What is slang?
Slang is a word or an expression that is very informal and is common in speech and is specific to the context and a particular group of people. These words and expressions are not part of standard vocabulary or language.
For example, we may say “I’m shattered” meaning I am tired to the point of exhaustion. This slang is commonly known and has not changed its meaning.
Slang can change its meaning and acquire new meaning with time. Take the word “busted” which used to mean broke for the baby boomers, then it changed to mean being caught doing something you’re not supposed to. Now, when you say someone is busted it means they are ugly.
What are idioms?
Idioms are words or expressions that convey a meaning but not in the literal sense. Idioms are also the dialect or jargon used by a certain group of people that have something in common.
- the English may say “it’s raining cats and dogs” to refer to raining heavily.
- the Irish would say “it’s throwing cobblers knives” to say heavy rain.
- In Norway, it’s expressed as “it’s raining female trolls.”
- In Africa “it’s raining old women with clubs”!!!
What are colloquialisms?
Colloquialisms are words or expressions characteristically used in every day conversation rather than formal speech or writing.
It is different to slang in that slang words are used by a particular set of people such as teenagers. Colloquial language can include slang but is mainly contraction of informal words and phrases peculiar to the native person.
For example, one would say “she’s out” rather than the formal speech “she is not at home”.
As writers or readers it’s handy to know the lingo and when to use it appropriately. Some words are common and well known but some are also new to me. It’s always fun to learn a new word 🙂
The words below and its meaning are from The Thesaurus of Slang by Esther Lewin and Albert E. Lewin. I have picked a handful that I liked from the U section.
Creep (mission), tref, triff, under wraps, hush-hush, doggo, incog, q.t., on the q.t. on the quiet, in a hole-and-corner way, in holes and corners, wildcat.
Peon, serf, slave, girl Friday, gofer, dweeb, yes-man, stooge, running dog, low man on the totem pole, second fiddle, second string, third string, flunky, spear carrier, second banana.
Undesirable Person noun
Creep, dork, rat, wrongo, drip, stinkpot, shit, shithead, sleaze, sleazeball, slime bucket, slime bucket, maggot, turkey, jerk, fink, gross, loser, louse, lousy, meatball, nerd, schmo, shmoe, weirdo, goon, base case of the uglies, banana, out, out of it, dumb cluck, dummy, mince, mole, nothing, simp, spastic, weenie, wimp, cotton picker, dipstick, arrowhead, for the birds, twerp, yo-yo, zombie, corpse, droop, herkle, prune, specimen, roach, toad, phrog, potato digger, won’t give on the time of day, gives one a pain, gives one a pain in the neck, gives one a pain in the ass, gripes one’s ass, wallflower, can’t see one for dust, ho dad, ho daddy, funky, Joe Sad.
Barefaced, plain as the nose on one’s face, under one’s nose, big as life, out in the open, open and shut, if it were a snake it would bite you.
The list of an undesirable person is long and there are perhaps more. Can you think of other words that are not included in this list? Do you have a good example to share? What’s your favorite slang term?
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