Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grammar - What Did He Just Say?

Matthew Bryant is secretary of GFW Writers group and also is our in-house professor of the new Grammar Etiquette blog series, posted the second Wednesday of every month. He is an English teacher in Denton, TX. When he isn't teaching he is ghost writing and working on his novel. He says with small children he has learned to write fast.
If you have a question or a comment, please leave it in the comment section at the end of this article.

Where would we be without idioms? Who would work drive-thru? Or clean public crappers? Or make dialogue in stories more interesting for that matter? To summarize, let's add vocabulary and categories to shake things up a bit. At least give you something to consider when you've got a story full of characters from all over the world (or multiple worlds) that all speak the same way.


Slang is the grand-daddy of idioms, most of which are lumped, incorrectly I might add, into this category. All languages have the 'proper' vocabulary and pronunciation. At the same time, all languages possess different levels of slang – which by definition is the shortening of words, newly coined words through combination of existing words, or using a word for a separate meaning.


“What's up, bro?”

“That's ridonculous.”

“This party is ill.”

The key factor in slang is a mutual understanding between communicating parties. Otherwise, one or the other looks like a complete idiom.


Jargon, much like slang, is comprised of language additives and shortened words familiar with members of a particular group, industry, or activity. Within jargon, however, you see a lot more acronyms and codes. Honestly, at times it's like talking to somebody that thinks texting is an actual language. The most common places for excessive jargon are scientists, who don't want to go around saying a bunch of chemicals that most of us can't pronounce, and lawyers, who don't want normal people knowing what they're talking about. Oh yes, and truckers, over.


Colloquialism is a type of informal slang commonly used within a language. This relies heavily on figurative language and is generally understood by the common populace of a geographical area. The expression, “You don't have the balls,” for instance, could refer to a skee-ball player who has yet to insert tokens, but more than likely is a crude way of calling somebody a coward.


What's the difference between a soda, coke, or a pop? Location, location, location. Sure they all reference the same thing, but ask for a pop in Dallas, Texas and you're going to get some funny looks. By the same right, I don't believe a native New Yorker would be caught dead telling somebody they were fixing to go the movies. Along with accents, certain regions will have their own ways of expressing things, utilizing slang not found in other parts of the country.


Anonymous said...

I do like to sling some slang from time to time. Great post!

Caroline Clemmons said...

A great way to add interest to dialogue if it's not overused. Great post.

Jeff Bacot said...

Yo dog, that post was dope! Word.
I love using slang in my writing, but it does require careful inclusion. Good stuff Matthew.

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