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Author Topic: Colloquialisms
Member # 6044

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The other day I was at a writers forum (live, not virtual) and one of the writers said that we should watch out for colloquialisms. This is particularly so here in Australia. She used an example, where her MC was really annoyed at another character and turned to him and said "You'll keep." In this context, it means that she'll deal with the annoying person's actions later, either with an equal action or counter action, but doesn't want to be bothered by it now (or she can't think quick enough to find one but doesn't want to admit that fact).

The writer said that she had many readers email her asking what the statement meant, and therefore believed it was a colloquialism from Australia. I was a little surprised by the example, but accepted it as one usually is surprised by what are colloquialisms. Then, in the recent challenge I see something written by someone that isn't Australian using the same line (read entry #18 of the Fear challenge).

My questions: Is "you'll keep" really a colloquialism? What is different in the meaning found in the challenge?

Are there any other experiences with colloquialisms that you have had?

[This message has been edited by Brendan (edited October 18, 2011).]

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Member # 8108

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"You'll keep" would mean the same thing to me here in the USA. I often say, "You'll be fine," to the kids where I work, which basically means the person will be able to endure whatever the problem is.

Related to the second part of your question: I know of at least two English versions of the Harry Potter books - one in English English and one in American English. The former has many colloquialisms in it that American aundiences would not understand, thus the latter version has been changed so us hicks can understand it.

[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited October 18, 2011).]

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Member # 8991

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Entry 18 was written by Trevor McGillicutty.
He's totally an Aussie.

Hey... wait. What do you mean 18 wasn't written by an Aussie? Last I checked, I had a pretty high security level on my fear mailbox. You sneekin peeks?

Regarding that really long word that was the subject of this thread, I personally just go with what sounds neat, or fits the dialect of a character, even if it doesn't make any sense to anyone but me.

Perhaps that's what Trevor was doing?


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Member # 8501

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'You'll keep' would be understood in context. It doesn't mean you'll be fine and the nearest equivalent is 'just you wait!' except it has a 'I'm not bothered to get my revenge right now'

It's interesting how some colloquialisms don't have easily explained equivalents.

I, personally like colloquialisms because you can position characters in time and place with them. I often use 'british-isms' in my stories in certain settings. I think they work as long as they are consistent with the context and people can figure them out with a tiny but of cogitation, but not enough to pull them out of a story.

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Robert Nowall
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Near as I can say...I'd take "you'll keep" to be a reference to, say, opening your refrigerator and deciding whether something or other in it will still be edible for a while longer---it'll "keep," meaning you'll keep it in the refrigerator a little longer.

That's just an example...really, it could refer to examining anything that decays or rots.

But it's definitely something an American should get the meaning of, if used in another context...at least, a savvy American should get it.

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I'd understand 'you'll keep' from context but I don't think I've heard it before. I think you just have to be aware when you're using any regional dialect and make sure it's not a problem for that particular story. A lot depends on the setting and time of the story. I try not to use too many things like this, because I don't want to exclude readers, or make them have to stop and figure something out. But I also write a lot of aliens and I have to be careful about using anything too 'Earthy' anyway.

On the flip side, you can use colloquialisms very effectively to help define a place and character. So I'd say, just use wisely.

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Member # 9426

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I don't think it is a colloquialism. I frequently heard my mother say, "It'll keep" (meaning we'll address the issue later), and I grew up nowhere near Australia.
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Member # 8586

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I've never heard it used like that before, so my instinct would be to call it a colloquialism, but I could very well be wrong.

Sometimes when we're watching shows from the UK my husband has to translate for me (he spent two years in Scotland), but not too often.

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Member # 8612

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If your target readers won't understand what you want them to - or worse if it confuses them - its a colloquialism.
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Hmm, interesting conversation. I was wondering if that phrase was a colloquialism I didn't know, which is quite possible. But in a later post I found why I didn't know it was written by an Aussie after all.

But now that I know what it mean I think it would make a great title for a story.

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I think that characterizing "it'll keep" as "colloquialism" is accurate, but unhelpful. Technically, "colloquial" simply means "informal". Unless you are willing to have your characters speak formal English (which is bizarre), you're going to have to live with colloquialisms. Too many of us have had colloquialisms so ruthlessly beaten out of our expository writing that we're afraid to use them where they belong: in dialog.

A more useful characterization of "it'll keep" is that it is a common, but not universally used *metaphor*. As such it will fall on two classes of ears: those for whom it is a *dead metaphor*, and those for whom it is a novel metaphor.

The dead metaphor camp will understand it without employing any kind of figurative imagination; it's effectively just a compound word for them. After all, we take "face" when applied to a clock as the thing itself, not some kind of allusion to a human face. We say "falling in love" without considering the rather poetic imagery that presents. "Panache" originally referred the horsehair tassel on top of a knight's helmet. Those metaphors are not only dead, they've been resurrected as words. They're undead metaphors.

Those to whom a metaphorical expression is novel will have to figure it out by context and figurative imagination. But if a passage is well written, and the metaphor is apt, almost everyone will understand it one way or another. There's always a few who manage to get left behind, of course.

So it all boils down to writing clearly and selecting apt metaphors. It's not such a dire situation after all. We can still understand Jane Austen almost effortlessly, even though both colloquial *and* formal English have changed considerably in two hundred years. We can read EE Doc Smith even though his writing is littered with colloquialisms that have no historical existence whatsoever outside his stories, because he's a terrific writer, even if his prose is deep purple.

"It'll keep" is certainly a dead metaphor for me, so I have no problem with it. If people unfamiliar with the phrase are having difficulty, perhaps the problem isn't in the metaphor, but rather the stuff that goes around it. Maybe it's not clear that the character uttering it is considering whether something needs to be done immediately, and then decides the answer is no. If that much is clear I should think the metaphor fairly easy to grasp. If not, then even a quite clever reader might be puzzled if he's not familiar with the phrase.

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Member # 9398

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For myself, I love, love, love colloquialisms. They seal the deal when the desired effect is transportation. I mean suppose you were telling a story about ancient rome and saw the dialogue:

Claudius: Yo dawg, I was down in the hood, when blam! This praetorian whips out his piece and things got hairy.

If you think about it, colloquialism is only recognized because it is semi-foreign to the reader. Isn't every metaphor infact colloquialism? "Pulling my leg" "let it keep" "cat got your tongue" "along came a spider"

We're surrounded by them and never notice them because they aren't foreign to us. So when your desired effect is to transport the reader you should have colloquialisms (which is why the roman example doesn't work...unless its comedic).

The only problem (and this has to be judged by...well good judgment) is when there isn't enough context to infer the metaphor's meaning. Take firefly for example, tons of colloquialism/metaphors. How is a situation shiny? What does full well mean? Or the made up profanity? Heck, sometimes they start speaking chinese and the audience still knows what is being said.

If you leave a little bit of a jump, people won't even notice the colloquialisms, and by the end it will almost subliminally make its way into their own vocab helping out the next writer.

Full well, it will.

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Member # 8019

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What about idiom? Idiom as I know it is what "You'll keep" seems like to me. Idiom: a dialectical colloquialism, so to speak.
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Member # 9345

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On the flipside, beware of the flat circumlocutions that result from trying to avoid colloquialisms and idioms.

I'd much rather read "he listened with stretched ears" than "he tried to overhear them with all his might".

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You have to watch colloquialisms particularly when the meaning changes from one country to the next. I recall one writer, from Australia, using the phrase, "He knocked her up." In Australia that means "He knocked on her door." In the USA it means "He made her pregnant." Puts a different interpretation on things, doesn't it?
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