Texas talk, colloquialisms, and weasel words – in my writing?

I wish I could say NO WAY!


When I shared a recent chapter with my critique partners, one of them questioned this sentence, “He found himself in deep water.”

  Not understanding that my POV character’s internal thought meant he found himself in trouble, she thought I had put him in a swimming pool and forgot to put that detail on the page.

Frequently what’s playing in my head fails to come across on the page in early drafts. Thank heaven for CPs who call me when that happens.

Not this time, though. This time I was using Texas talk.

She’d never heard the expression “in deep water” used that way. Her stumbling over the phrase led to a discussion of colloquial language and how words, phrases, and even clichés vary from one geographical area to another.

In Texas, we have a whole slew of vocabulary that has folks scratching their heads. I just used one—slew, meaning a whole bunch. We’re always y’all-ing and gonna and fixin’ when we talk. Non-Texans do sometimes need an interpreter.

 Some more phrases:

come hell or high waterproceeding, regardless of the problems, obstacles, etc.

conniptionsget upset and raise a ruckus

hissy fit – kin to a conniption a state of extreme agitation and not a pretty thing to see

hot as tin toilet seat – in Texas we know that’s HOT

screaming bloody murder or banshee scream – not a pleasant sound at all

bone tired – yep, been there

slow as molasses – visualize black syrup oozing out of the jar

keep your pants on – meaning not what you think, but to be patient!

When I’m being lazy with my writing or rushing, Texas terms and phrases naturally flow into my first drafts. 

I also have favorite words that pop up. Words like: had, that, could, was, felt, knew, thought, saw, walked, come. Margie Lawson  calls these “weasel words.”

 I learned in Margie’s deep editing class, The EDITS System, to keep a WEASEL WORD CHART listing colloquial phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés, and opinion words.

 Unfortunately, my chart populates too easily. I’m my own worst copy editor. that’s why I always pay a professional before my books are published. The words I overuse stand out like sore thumbs to others.  (Sorry, Margie had to use a cliché to prove my point.)

 During the revision stages, the chart helps eliminate such weasel words and phrases using my word processor’s search and replace function.  

BUT characterization can need slang and colloquial regional dialogue. Texan talk has a function if the protagonist is a Texan or the setting is Texas.

Are you working on a Texas setting or character? Here’s a great resource: http://www.rice.edu/armadillo/Texas/talk.html

Other times, overuse in novel narrative becomes a stumbling block, pulling readers from the story.

 When that happens, the reader does what no writer wants a reader to do—QUITS reading!

 If colloquialisms are your writer’s voice, I caution you to be sure your reader can understand what you’re saying. Always remember what I learned in a Susan Wiggs workshop.

In the battle of words, the story reigns.

 Our word choices should always move the story forward.

In case you’re wondering what I did about my CP’s question, I decided the reader could discern the meaning from the rest of the scene and left the phrase “deep water” in the manuscript.

 How about you…

Do colloquialisms, local slang and weasel words slip into your novels?

Are you guilty of using expressions you grew up with that might confuse a reader? Care to share some and explain their local meaning?


12 Comments on “Texas talk, colloquialisms, and weasel words – in my writing?

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Reading some if the colloquial terms used in Texas vernacular is brilliant.

    I’m not a writer myself. But I am very attracted to the phrases and words used all over the world. Texas and the south being a big hitter.

    But where I am from, Liverpool, England. Are very renowned for our poor grammar and slang.
    Though I was fortunate to receive private tutoring to help with my dyslexia, which has allowed to have a better grasp of the mor RP English than most of the “scousers” (Liverpudlians) I know. I still slip up useing words and phrases, especially when I find myself with my fellow brethren 😉

    For example:

    Goin to Ours (pronounced ah-r-s) – translates to “going to my home”

    All’righ Larr – “hello there”

    Ohw’s it goin’ kidda? – “how are you?”

    Fancy a Bevvie? – “want to go for a drink” (useualy alcoholic in nature)

    These are a few examples.


    • Interesting examples, Sebastian. I’ve spent some time in Europe especially UK and Ireland. I love the different accents, regional sayings, and colloquial terms. I find myself speaking Irish if I spent much time there. Thanks for stopping by. Come again!

  2. Good reminder about the weasel words. Linda Adams reminded us recently about the word “it,” and I have been watching out for that one in my writing. (Found it, too. Darn.) BTW, I knew the majority of these terms, (I am from NJ) but maybe I learned some from my TX relatives.

  3. Pingback: LET’S PAINT THE TOWN RED | panhandleprofessionalwriters

  4. ‘But’ & ‘that’ are my two favorite words. Ever. I do a search-and-destroy for them before sending any manuscript anywhere. (And there’s another colloquialism for your list!)

    • Love the search-and-destroy capability. Hate revisions because I can’t seem to stop the weasels from cropping up. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Love this! I’m 5th generation Idahoan and all but “hot as a tin toilet seat” are familiar to me – we don’t have tin toilet seats in Idaho because you’d freeze to them in the winter. One of my favorites, from my grandmother, is “wool gathering” as in to day dream or not pay attention. Another is “up the creek” or “crick” as it’s pronounced here – same as “deep water.” Now you’ve got me started, I’ll be thinking of these things for a week!

    • In TX we say up a crick without a paddle when things are really, really bad! Thanks for stopping by the porch. Happy you found something to fill your time. Like you probably had nothing else to do. LOL

  6. Loved this! I’m sure I use my fair share of Texas Talk but I do come by in honestly. I also slip in some California girl but for that too, I come by it honestly! 🙂

  7. I found it odd that she hadn’t heard “deep water”. I grew up in MO and I knew it. However, I once used “Scotch” meaning “cheap” (Sorry, Scots) and my critique partner hadn’t heard it. I even showed it to her in the dictionary but did delete it because it really wasn’t necessary

    • I’ve deleted a lot of Irish talk from my manuscripts because CPs and beta readers just don’t get what I’m trying to say in the character’s dialogue. I knew Scotch. I guess because I’ve a bit of the Scot to go with the Irish. Thanks so much for stopping by the porch. Come again. Come often.

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