In Dutch, teachers commonly use the phrase "spreektaal", literally translated "spoken language" to denote a turn of phrase or sentence that, in the context of the assignment, is too informal. "you would not see this in writing, but it's normal in everyday speech." Either it's too new, or someone accidentally wrote down their verbal tic, etc. You'd see this written in the margin where points are deducted from assignments for it in educational settings.

In this context, the word has a very specific meaning. I've been trying to figure out what the equivalent would be in English. If a teacher would strikethrough a bunch of "so like" constructs in an essay written with a 'valley girl' accent1, what would the short word/phrase written in the margin be?

This is a very common mistake for students to make, so the big phrase in quotes above seems 'too long' to not have some common term for it. Is it "conversational writing"? I can only find that term with positive connotations attached to it.

1: This doesn't mean that a 'character' can't speak 'like so', it's where the narrator mistakenly takes on what's usually the writer's speech patterns.

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    What's wrong with "too informal"? It says it all.
    – fev
    Jul 20, 2023 at 7:53
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    I don't see anything wrong with OP's original too casual. And it's great to see this question not phrased as a single word request. Jul 20, 2023 at 8:01
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    Of course, academics wouldn't want to confess their preference for fancy. So maybe sloppy, slang-y, chatty or street talk works. There's aways insufficiently pretentious. Jul 20, 2023 at 13:56
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    Formal/informal and written/spoken are two different axes. So "spreektaal" refers to 'spoken', but (in your case) used to point out 'informal', right?
    – Pablo H
    Jul 20, 2023 at 16:32

5 Answers 5


Too informal is ironically the most formal way to put it. While you can characterize style or language as casual, it is more idiomatic to say informal language (see this Ngram). In all dictionaries, if there are phrases, expressions or idioms used in everyday speech more than in writing, they will be labelled as informal (not casual).

For example look at this definition of wow:

exclamation informal
used to show surprise and sometimes pleasure. (Cambridge)

It is true that informal does not carry a negative connotation intrinsically, but if you couple it with too, it will convey exactly what you mean.

Sometimes, you will find in dictionaries the term colloquial:


(of words and expressions) informal and more suitable for use in speech than in writing:

However, I would stick with too informal. It says it all.

  • I'm not totally convinced by this answer. It seems like what the person is posting is more specific than this as it includes if ''someone accidentally wrote down their verbal tic'', which is somehow more specific than being informal or colloquial. This is writing like you speak, it's like ''casual writing'' or ''writing with a conversational style''. Jul 20, 2023 at 16:45
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    I might suggest vulgar if I was feeling formal and anachronistic in my markup.
    – webmarc
    Jul 20, 2023 at 22:31
  • @HollisWilliams I agree; but think that too colloquial would be better, or possibly too conversational but the latter might need more context to make the comment clear
    – Chris H
    Jul 21, 2023 at 9:37

The margin note for a lack of formality would likely be just "language!". This conveys that the used language is inappropriate for the passage in question for whatever reason. "colloquial" on its own is descriptive but lacks to convey the undesirability. That purpose is served by instead using "colloquialism" which has the disadvantage of being a mouthful. However, repeat occurences may well be abbreviated "coll." then.

In your question, you mention character/narrator which would be relevant for fiction rather than an essay. Trying to nail down a mandatory level of formality for the narrator appears like a rather tricky proposition to me in such context. The rather unspecific "language!" might still work to bring across disapproval in a manner where it is hard to dispute concretely.

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    To me "language!" implies bad language (swearing).
    – Stuart F
    Jul 21, 2023 at 10:16

When I taught freshman lit courses as a grad student, there wasn't any commonly used phrase to indicate that the student's prose in a piece of expository writing had fallen into patois. The main thing is that the students understand what you mean by it, whatever term you choose. I like too talky.


I'd go with "colloquial" (mentioned but dismissed in the accepted answer) as closer in meaning to characterizing something as spreektaal.

"Too informal" is more general. Written style can be formal or informal, so a cover letter for a job application, for example, could be judged "too informal" even if it doesn't use colloqualisms.


A really common thing would be to simply scribble


"Like so" appears in an essay; it's totally obvious what the problem is.

The teacher doesn't have to labour the point and give an exact extended description of what the problem is with the tone. It's evident that there's a problem with the tone so you just write "tone".

Much as you would write "spelling" for spelling troubles or "grammar" for grammar troubles.

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