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Colloquialwords are subdivided into literary colloquial, familiar colloquial and low colloquial. Colloquial words are characteristic of the informal style of spoken English. One should distinguish between literary (standard) colloquial words as units of Standard English and non-literary colloquialisms that belong to sub-standard English vocabulary.

Literary colloquial words are used in everyday conversations both by cultivated and uneducated people and are also met in written literary texts. As for their etymology and syllabic structure, literary colloquial words are closer to neutral words than to literary-bookish units, but, as a rule, have stronger emotional colouring. They are formed on standard word-formative patterns, some of them (for instance, contraction, phrasal verbs and nouns, substantivation) being particularly frequent: granny, birdie, latish, touchy, perm, disco, baby-sit, chopper, put up, do away, turn in, let-down, make-up, hand-in-glove, daily (n.), constitutional (n.), etc.

The informal style of spoken English is also characterizedby extensive use of occasional and potential words, qualifiers, rcsponsives, pragmatic phraseological units, evaluative attributes and predicatives, e.g. Reaganomics, Oscarish, awfully glad, terribly sweet, dead right, you bet, there you are, what next? it's no go, smart kid, lousy weather, too New-York, etc. Several classes of nomination are exclusively colloquial: semantically diffused words (thing, stuff, affair, etc.), the so-termed ersatz-words (thingummy, whatsename, whatchamacallit,), syntagmatic doublets (you boys, Bobby boy, darling dear).

Colloquialismsare used by everybody, and their sphere of communication is comparatively wide. Literary colloquial words are used in everyday conversational speech both by cultivated and uneducated people of all age groups. The sphere of communication of literary colloquial words also includes the printed page, which shows that the term "colloquial" is somewhat inaccurate. It is quite natural that informal words appear in dialogues in which they realistically reflect the speech of modern people:

"You're at some sort of technical college?" she said to Leo, not looking at him ... . "Yes. I hate it though. I'm not good enough at maths. There's a chap there just down from Cambridge who puts us through it. I can't keep up. Were you good at maths?" "Not bad. But I imagine school maths are different." "Well, yes, they are. I can't cope with this stuff at all, it's the whole way of thinking that's beyond me... I think I'm going to chuck it and take a job." (From The Time of the Angels by I. Murdoch)

However, in modern fiction informal words are not restricted to conversation in their use, but frequently appear in descriptive passages as well. In this way the narrative is endowed with conversational features. The author creates an intimate, warm, informal atmosphere, meeting his reader, as it were, on the level of a friendly talk, especially when the narrative verges upon non-personal direct speech. If he thought of his past it was with complacency; he had had a good time, he had enjoyed his ups and downs; and now, with good health and a clear conscience, he was prepared to settle down as a country gentleman, damn it, bring up the kids as kids should be brought up; and when the old buffer who sat for his Constituency pegged out, by George, go into Parliament himself." (From Rain and Other Short Stories by W. S. Maugham)

Here are some more examples of literary colloquial words. Pal and chum are colloquial equivalents of friend; girl, when used colloquially, denotes a woman of any age; bite and snack stand for meal; hi, hello are informal greetings, and so long a form of parting; start, go on, finish and be through are literary colloquialisms; to have a crush on somebody is a colloquial equivalent of to be in love. A bit (of) and a lot (of) also belong to this group. A considerable number of shortenings are found among words of this type. E. g. pram, exam, fridge, flu, prop, zip, movie.

Verbs with post-positional adverbs are also numerous among colloquialisms: put up, put over, make up, make out, do away, turn up, turn in, etc.

Literary colloquial words are to be distinguished from familiar colloquial and low colloquial. The borderline between the literary and familiar colloquial is not always clearly marked.

Familiar colloquial words are used mostly by the young and the semi-educated people. This vocabulary group closely verges on slang and has something of its coarse flavour. E.g. doc (for doctor), hi (for how do you do), ta-ta (for good-bye), goings-on (for behaviour, usually with a negative connotation), to kid smb. (for tease, banter), to pick up smb. (for make a quick and easy acquaintance), go on with you (for let me alone), shut up (for keep silent), beat it (for go away).

Low colloquialisms are words characteristic of the speech of persons who may be broadly described as uncultivated. This group is stocked with words of illiterate English which do not present much interest for our purposes.

b) Non-literary (sub-standard) colloquial words include slang, jargonisms, professionalisms and vulgarisms.

Slang Much has been written on the subject of slang that is contradictory and at the same time very interesting. The Oxford English Dictionary defines slang as "language of a highly colloquial style, considered as below the level of standard educated speech, and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special sense." This definition is inadequate because it equates slang with colloquial style. The qualification "highly" can hardly serve as the criterion for distinguishing between colloquial style and slang.

Here is another definition of slang by the famous English writer G. K. Chesterton: "The one stream of poetry which in constantly flowing is slang. Every day some nameless poet weaves some fairy tracery of popular language. ...All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.

Slang words and idioms are short-lived and very soon either disappear or lose their peculiar colouring and become either colloquial or stylistically neutral lexical units. As to the author's words "all slang is metaphor", it is a true observation, though the second part of the statement "all metaphor is poetry" is difficult to accept, especially if we consider the following examples: mug (for face), saucers, blinkers (for eyes), trap (for mouth, e. g. Keep your trap shut), dogs (for feet), to leg (it) (for to walk). All these meanings are certainly based on metaphor, though they cannot be considered as poetical.

Slang comprises highly informal words not accepted for dignified use. Such words are expressive sub-standard substitutes for current words of standard vocabulary. As a rule, their meanings are based on metaphor and have a jocular or ironic colouring, e.g. attic ("head"), beans ("money"), governor ("father"), saucers ("eyes"), soaked ("drunk"), to leg /it/ ("to walk"), to rag ("to tease"), etc. Slang words are easily understood by all native speakers, because they are not specific for any social or professional group (cf. with Ukrainian , e.g. /""/, /""/, / ""/, etc.). Therefore, such terms as "army slang", "school slang", "football slang", "sea slang" and the like are rather inaccurate.

All or most slang words are current words whose meanings have been metaphorically shifted. Each slang metaphor is rooted in a joke, but not in a kind or amusing joke. This is the criterion for distinguishing slang from colloquialisms: most slang words are metaphors and jocular, often with a coarse, mocking, cynical colouring.

People use slang for a number of reasons: to be picturesque, arresting, striking and, above all, different from others, to avoid the tedium of outmoded hackneyed "common" words, to demonstrate one's spiritual independence and daring, to sound "modern" and "up-to-date". It doesn't mean that all these aims are achieved by using slang. Slang is mainly used by the young and uneducated. A considerable part of slang may become accepted by nearly all the groups of speakers.

Jargonisms are informal words peculiar for a certain social or professional group. Such words are usually motivated and, like slang words, have metaphoric character, e.g. bird ('"rocket", "spacecraft"); garment ("pressure space suit") /astronauts' jargon/; to grab ("to make an impression on smb.") / newspaper jargon/; Mae West ("pneumatic vest") /military jargon/: grass, tea, weed ("narcotic") /drug addicts' jargon/, etc.

Among social jargons cant or argot (thieves' jargon) stands somewhat apart. Cant (argot) words are non-motivatedand have special "agreed-upon", secretive meanings, e.g. book ("life sentence"), splosh ("money"), to rap ("to kill"), etc.

Professionalisms are sub-standard colloquial words used by people of a definite trade or profession. Such words are informal substitutes for corresponding terms, e.g. nuke ("nuclear"), identikit ("photorobot"), Hi-Fi ("high fidelity"), anchors ("brakes"), smash-up ("accident"), ack-ack gun ("anti-aircraft gun"), etc.

Vulgarisms include: a) expletives and swear words of abusive character (damn, goddam, bloody),b) obscene (or taboo, four-letter) words which are highly indecent.


  1. Analyze the meanings of the italicized words. Identify the result of the changes of the connotational aspect of lexical meaning in the given words.
  2. Archaic, obsolete and historic words
  3. Combine the following words into sentences.
  4. Compare the meanings of the given words. Define what semantic features are shared by all the members of the group and what semantic properties distinguish them from each other.
  5. Divergences in the semantic structure of words
  6. Familiar colloquial style.
  7. Free Word-Groups Versus Phraseological Units Versus Words
  8. Identify the period of borrowing of the French, Greek, Russian and German words given in task 6.
  9. International Words
  10. Interrelation of Etymological and Stylistic Characteristics of Words.
  11. Look at this form of a music collection. Label the data types with words from B opposite.


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