When someone in conversation says something like "you always forget [x]" or "you never remember to [y]", is the use of the word always/never when it is understood that it is not literally always or never, considered a colloquialism?

  • 1
    It's just hyperbole or exaggeration. Nothing about it is particularly colloquial.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 20, 2017 at 15:35

4 Answers 4


As Mitch commented, this is hyperbole.

From MW

extravagant exaggeration (such as “mile-high ice-cream cones”)


I believe it is an example of a colloquialism because "never remember" or "always forget" are basically slang terms for having a poor memory. But I would not use it in a academic paper or any serious type of writing. Although, for fictional writing it is appropriate if you are trying to set a scene or trying to portray your subjects through their verbal etiquette.


In the sense that the phrase segments are an aspect of common speech - yes, they are absolutely colloquialisms.
I find it interesting that the difference between the statements is that "always" refers to an active behaviour where as "Never" refers to a lack of action. So in the sense of the phrase meanings "never remember" would seem the best fit to the intent of the expression.


From Garner's Modern American Usage 3rd Ed:


A good deal of confusion has surrounded this word. Traditionally, lexicographers used it to denote that a word so labeled is typical of cultivated conversation or informal speech, as opposed to the most formal style of written prose. E.g.: “The sensible man speaks colloquially most of the time. When he wants to be formal or unusually impressive he tries to speak as he thinks he writes. But on these occasions he often makes a pompous ass of himself.” Bergen Evans, “Your Speech Is Changing” (1959). But many dictionary users mistook the label as indicating a departure from high grammatical standards—even though the dictionary writers who used the label had no such intention. Hence colloquial, and especially the corresponding noun colloquialism, gradually took on negative connotations. In the second half of the 20th century, most lexicographers dropped the labels. At the same time, mediocre writers strove for hyperformal stiffness, as another authority noted: “Most of us, when we write, have a fear of dropping into colloquialism, and so go to almost any lengths of stilted periphrasis to avoid it.” G.H. Vallins, Good English: How to Write It 145 (1951). Things have gradually changed, partly as a result of the electronic age: modern communications are increasingly informal. We have come closer to developing a style of speakable writing—one that is natural, idiomatic, and comfortable. Perhaps, after a period of degenerate connotations, colloquial will become a term of praise.

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