Idiom vs colloquialism

An idiom is a phrase that is more than the sum of its parts, or in other words, has more of a meaning than the individual words used in the phrase. Examples include pay the piper, for the birds, and pulling one’s leg. Idiom is also a synonym for dialect, a way of speech particular to a geographical area that has specific vocabulary, syntax, and grammar. Finally, it can be used to describe a method of expression particular to a person, time period, or object.

colloquialism is a phrase that has risen from verbal speech. The only criteria for this designation is that the word or phrase be extremely informal. They may originate from a dialect, but do not have to. Examples include a whole nother, could care less, and raring to.


The idiom is often translated as “9 shepherds for 10 sheep,” and is used to describe a situation in which there are too many people giving orders and not enough people to carry them out. [The Epoch Times]

Speaking at the meet-the-director programme organised on the sidelines of the festival, Sajin Baabu, director of the movie Asthamayam Vare (Unto the Desk) said digital technology had opened up new possibilities for those who sought to experiment with new idioms for a cinematic language one could evolve. [The Hindu]

He is equally at home in classical, jazz and pop idioms. [Chicago Tribune]

Boko Haram is not their real name; instead, it is a colloquialism given to them by the outside world, which basically stands for “Western education is forbidden.” [Blog Critics]

Well, “Presidents Day” has become an informal colloquialism for the federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday of each February, which officially is titled “Washington’s Birthday.” [Deseret News]

3 thoughts on “Idiom vs colloquialism”

  1. The best colloquialism of all is “y’all”! It should be officially recognized as the optional 2nd person pronoun, plural, in American English. And as an alternative 2nd person singular pronoun as well. Don’t y’all agree?

  2. I disagree that idiom is synonymous with dialect. While an idiom may be a part of one’s dialect, it is not one’s dialect in whole. Idiomatic language is inherently figurative, whereas colloquialisms are often figurative, but mostly derivative.


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