Recently, I ventured to Boston for the first time for a bite at my now-favorite seafood restaurant, Legal Sea Foods. Following on the heels of a conversation with a friend who grew up and resides in New Jersey (while I am a product of the Midwest), my ears were perked up to notice the differences in pronunciation that are so common (and often comical) between the regions of the U.S. Sometimes these differences can be so profound that even native English-speakers can occasionally not understand each other—to say nothing of those to whom it is a second or even third language!
Not only does pronunciation throw Americans off as we struggle to speak the same language, but our colloquialisms—or local or regional expressions—can confuse us even further. For example, at the restaurant, I asked one of the waitstaff, "Excuse me, which way is the washroom?" Suddenly, I realized he may not know that I needed the ladies' room, because the word washroom is a colloquialism in Chicago, several states away. Luckily for me, he was familiar enough with it to direct me without pause or question. (This likely had something to do with the fact that most of the patrons to the place were visiting from out of town.) In another example, I heard of a Bostonian traveling to a different part of the east coast and asking for a frappe at an ice cream shop. When the young woman behind the counter explained that they didn't serve Starbucks-style Frappucinos®, the man from Boston had some explaining to do, himself: He was asking for a milkshake!
The word colloquialism found its way into the English language in the early 1800s, while its parent word, colloquy, (conversation) was first introduced in 1751, a derivative of the Latin word colloquium, meaning conference, or literally, "speak together." Synonyms are cant, jargon, slang, and argot.
I found a fun, tongue-in-cheek list of colloquialisms collected by a local Bostonian (not to be confused with a Bostonite, which is a type of rock—found, not surprisingly, in and near Boston). Enjoy!
© KiKi Productions, Inc. 2009