An Introduction to Colloquialism/Slang by Paddy Byrne - Profesor/a de inglés

An Introduction to Colloquialism/Slang


Colloquialism is a word that refers to non-formal and/or non-literary words and phrases.  A more commonly known “Colloquial” version of the word itself is slang.  Slang is the word that every day native English speakers use to refer to non-formal and non-literary words and phrases that generally form a significant part of a regional dialect.  Most if not all regions of native English speaking countries have their own spoken dialect that, along with their unique accents, carry with them their own set of unique vocabulary mixed into standard English, their own words and phrases that are culturally unique to them, their own slang.
A person may spend most of their entire lives in any English speaking country learning the English language from official schools and at a native level and never know how to understand and communicate  and understand every dialect.  There are possibly too many dialects to speak of and I doubt many if any can truly list every slang word and phrase of every English dialect.  People may argue that this is unimportant but if you wish to visit certain countries and truly connect with the locals and build strong personal or professional relationships, then this slang is certainly an important component of the English you should learn.
As mentioned above, it is very difficult to list every dialect and give examples of Colloquialism/Slang from every regional dialect worldwide but I can certainly list a few from my own country and a few I’ve picked up from other English speaking countries.  Have a look at the list I’ve compiled below, you’re not likely to pick up these words or phrases in a standard language, public or private school!

The list I’ve compiled contains a few common slang words and phrases that are commonly used every day across my native Ireland and neighbouring UK.  This is an introduction to a sliver of colloquial expressions known in the UK & Ireland.  I will be introducing additional slang from Ireland, the UK, and other native speaking English countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and more.  Maybe in time I’ll even pick up slang native to other countries such as Spain that will likely have developed their own slang words and phrases.  Below is an introductory list, I hope you find these useful!


What’s the craic? (Ireland) What’s the crack? (UK)
(Craic has the exact same pronunciation as the word crack)

Meaning:  What’s happening/what’s going on?

Can be often heard in both the UK & Ireland.  Most common in Ireland, most will use this phrase at some point, generally used as a greeting and to ask what’s going on in general or what is happening in terms of a very specific situation.  In the Irish language, “gaeilge” the word means fun.  So you will come across some pubs in Ireland with a sign reading “craic agus ceoil” meaning fun and music.  It is believed that it originated in Scotland before passing from north to south in both England and Ireland.


Meaning:  Very tired.

As with many of the words and phrases in my list I can’t be sure if knackered is used widely used in any other English speaking countries but I can confirm it is very widely used across both the UK & Ireland.  I use this word most days.

To knick 

Meaning:  Steal something.

Another one that is very common in every day conversation in both the UK & Ireland.  “my wallet was knicked last night” is unfortunately a commonly spoken phrase.  We also tend to use it as a means of asking to borrow something, “mind if I knick your car for the afternoon?”


Meaning:  Disappointed.

Often used to replace the word disappointed.  We’re generally gutted when we don’t get the job we apply for or our favourite sports team lose a game.

Always lands on his/her feet

Meaning: Describes how a certain person always gets out of a tough situation and survives well by luck or chance.

We all know that Tom, Dick or Harry who lands on their feet despite the fact that they have no job and no money the next day they magically have both and in abundance too!

Donkey’s years

Meaning:  A very long time.

Generally when you have been doing something for a very long period of time you can use the phrase donkey’s years to emphasise just how long you’ve been doing whatever it is.  “I’ve been working there for donkey’s years”.

Lose the plot

Meaning:  To go crazy or get into a fit of rage.

When somebody has lost their mind and gone crazy we often say that they have lost the plot.  When a child or employee has made a horrendous mistake we can generally assume that their parent(s) or employer are going to lose the plot.

Taking the piss

Meaning:  To mock or make a joke.  Also fooling around in general.

When somebody is under the impression that I’m being serious when I’m actually joking, I will often say I’m taking the piss to calm the situation.  My mother will often scold or rather give me a warning by telling me “don’t take the piss”.  Only joking, that was my dad, my mother is a saint!

Pissed/Hammered/Plastered (among many others)

Meaning: Very drunk

If I’m having a very enjoyable Saturday evening it’s often ode to the fact that I’m hammered or plastered or pissed, whichever colloquial expression I find to be appropriate at the time.  These words are used more than the word drunk, according to my own experience of Irish, English, Scottish & Welsh prowls in European pubs.

The expressions above are expressions that I use and/or hear in every day conversations.  Locals will be impressed by your dialogue if it includes the slang aforementioned.  Don’t hesitate to use a few of these phrases the next time you are locked in conversation with people from any of these countries.  The list above is based on my own experience, so it may be likely that other English speaking countries I am less familiar with also make regular use of these expressions.  
In the following weeks I will work on gathering more useful examples of colloquialisms in the English language.  Here at Oxinity we are a community of thousands of teachers based around the world & have command of more than just English, so the list of colloquial words I can gather will be immense.  Our teachers can guide you in preparing for exams, improving your English for professional purposes, teaching you or your children the basics of the language and can teach a very wide range of grammar, punctuation, pronunciation etc.  We teach British and American English, along with many other dialects and languages.  You can try out our tried and tested teaching system today with a free trial class, no commitments!  I highly recommend it.
1ª Clase Gratis