Printable Version
Pronunciation: kê-lo-kwi-êl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Characteristic of the spoken, not formal written, language; conversational, informal though not necessarily slang.

Notes: Although this word historically is the adjective from colloquy, it is now a word on its own with its own family (see Word History). A word or phrase that is used conversationally but not in formal or written English is a colloquialism. A person who participates in a conversation (co-conversationalist) may be referred to as a colloqualist, though this word can also refer to someone known for using colloquialisms.

In Play: Drawing the line between slang and colloquialism is sometimes difficult because the domains of the two overlap, as this example shows: "Well, I think 'bad-mouth' is too colloquial for this discussion when we have 'vilify' and 'revile' that do the same job without reflecting poorly on the speaker's vocabulary." While there are defenders of colloquial style, it is not acceptable everywhere: "Rhoda Book's manuscript is written in a style too colloquial for the academic press."

Word History: The root of today's Good Word goes back to the Latin word for a simple conversation, the verb colloqui "to talk together", based on com- "(together) with" + loqui "to talk". Loqui apparently started out in Proto-Indo-European as tolk- "speak", probably at the root of English talk and certainly behind Russian tolkovat' "interpret, explain". In Latin, the O and L apparently switched places (metathesis), resulting in tlok-. Since few languages permit words beginning on TL, this word would have naturally reduced to lok-, the root of loqui, pronounced [lokwi]. (We will use a common colloquialism, 'thanks', to show our appreciation to that guy Bill Guy for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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