Colloquial idioms: Or, what is that when it’s at home?

the hand-written words just me and my handbasket

I go on language kicks every once in a while, and lately the communication quirk that has been delighting me is colloquialisms. Possibly idioms. Maybe regional metaphors. Those turns of phrase, whatever they may be called, that completely fit with a character, region and environment but may not actually be common usage.

I’m lucky to have travelled a lot both as a kid and an adult, and been exposed to a lot of regions, dialects, and even languages. Kind of like my post on how it’s hard to grasp the flavor of different places without experiencing them, language too can be something hard to wrap your head around.

Maybe you’re of the opinion that it’s a horse apiece (or six of one, half-dozen of the other; or pretty much all the same) but consider the character development and regional flavor you can easily and quickly slide into your writing with a well-crafted and appropriate colloquialism.

Whether someone is pulling your leg, pulling your hair (Spanish), or thinks you were born yesterday, turns of phrase jan tell you about a person’s home environment and their individual personality in a couple of well-chosen words. That makes me happy as a pig in a poke.

I could ride this train to Doomsday (okay, making some of these up now), but another thought before wrapping up:

We all have neat phrases that we know and have used, but consider the value (and challenge) of colloquialisms in genre fiction.

I’ve read at least two book where current idioms were used to establish the main characters as somewhat retro and old time-y. I enjoyed both of those, but there’s a certain RELISH in reading a book with specific, talented, and world-building use of idiom and metaphors.

For example, in Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan (or possibly one of its sequels), every single metaphor that the main character uses serves to establish his life experience as an interplanetary spy and special operations killing machine in an extremely futuristic world. The one I remember was “The ocean heaved like a body on the interrogation table” (paraphrase). That’s a disturbing analogy, and immediately gives you a glimpse into the character’s…expectations and interpretations of the world.

When a writer can place themselves so deeply into a non-traditional, non-current world that those analogies become simple and organic, it can be a powerful way to generate interesting writing, and also add texture, depth and believability.

In Spacefic (the space romance that I talk about more than I write it, to my shame) I want to work in those casual, local, and relevant colloquialism, which means that I need to understand my species and environment enough to know what common turns of phrase they would have that wouldn’t be translated in any other way. It’s a neat challenge.

How about you? Do you have a favorite turn of phrase, metaphor, or colloquialism?


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