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A chav stereotype, with a Burberry cap and bling

Chav, (/ˈæv/ CHAV) is a stereotype and pejorative epithet used in Britain.[1][2] The stereotype was popularised in the first decade of the 21st century by the British mass media to refer to an anti-social youth subculture in the United Kingdom.[3] The Oxford Dictionary defines "chav" as an informal British derogatory, meaning a young lower-class person who displays brash and loutish behaviour and wears real or imitation designer clothes.[4]


The term may have its origins in the Romani word chavi, meaning "child".[5][6] The derivative chavette has been used to refer to females.[7] The adjectives "chavish" and "chavtastic" have been used in relation to items designed for or suitable for use by chavs.[5] The word existed in the 19th century; lexicographer Eric Partridge mentions it in his huge dictionary of slang and unconventional English. 'Chaval' was used to describe a boy.[8] On BBC Learning English, Professor David Crystal wrote, "nobody knows who reactivated [the word chav] in recent times" after its historical use in Romany history.[8]

The word in its current pejorative usage is recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary as first used in a Usenet forum in 1998 and first used in a newspaper in 2002.[9] By 2005 the term became widespread in its use as to refer to a type of anti-social, uncultured youth, who wear a lot of flashy jewellery, white trainers, baseball caps, sham designer clothes; the girls expose a lot of midriff.[8]

In the 2011 book, Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class, the author surmised that the word is an attack on the poor.[10] In the 2010 book Stab Proof Scarecrows, it was surmised that "chav" was an abbreviation for "council housed and violent";[11] this created a backronym.[6] This backronym was used in a 2012 public statement by Rapper Plan B as he spoke out to oppose the use of the term.[12]

In 2013 David Crystal, one of the world's foremost linguistic experts on English, was featured on BBC Learning English. He said,

"People talk about 'chav behaviour' or 'chav insults' and that sort of thing. Oh, don't believe the popular etymologies that you read sometimes in the press and on websites. I saw one the other day, people said, 'It's an acronym, 'chav', from council house and violent' - well, no, it isn't, that was made up in recent times".[8]


Besides referring to loutish behaviour, violence, and particular speech patterns,[13] the stereotype of a chav includes wearing branded designer sportswear,[14] which may be accompanied by some form of flashy gold jewellery otherwise termed as "bling".[15]

In a case where a teenage woman was barred from her own home under the terms of an anti-social behaviour order in 2005, some British national newspapers branded her "the real-life Vicky Pollard" with the Daily Star running headlines reading, "Good riddance to chav scum: real life Vicky Pollard evicted",[16] both referring to a BBC comedy character parodying chavs.[13] Created by radio host Matt Lucas for the show 'Little Britain', the Vicky Pollard character is a gossiping, drug-running, thieving teenage delinquent, who in one episode trades her out-of-wedlock baby for a CD.[13] A 2006 survey by YouGov suggested 70% of TV industry professionals believed that Vicky Pollard was an accurate reflection of white working-class youth.[9] Also in 2006, Prince William of Wales and his younger brother Prince Harry had dressed up as chavs, resulting in headlines in The Sun naming him "Future Bling of England". The article stated, "William has a great sense of humour and went to a lot of trouble thinking up what to wear".[15]

Response to the stereotype has ranged from amusement to criticism that it is a new manifestation of classism.[17] The Guardian in 2011 identified issues stemming from the use of the terms "hoodies" and "chav" within the mass media, which had led to age discrimination as a result of mass media-created stereotypes.[3]

Commercial effect

In 2005 the fashion house Burberry, whilst deriding 'chavs', claimed that the widespread fashion in the UK of 'chavs' wearing its branded style, i.e. Burberry check was due to the wide availability of cheaper counterfeit versions. [18] In 2008, in response to the continuing rise in popularity of the Burberry brand, Christopher Bailey, who was responsible for the company’s overall image including all advertising, corporate art direction, store design and visuals, and the design of all Burberry collections and product lines, said "I'm proud we had such a democratic appeal."[19]

The large supermarket chain Asda has attempted to trademark the word "chav" for a new line of confectionery. A spokeswoman said, "With slogans from characters in shows such as Little Britain and The Catherine Tate Show providing us with more and more contemporary slang, our Whatever sweets – now nicknamed chav hearts – have become very popular with kids and grown-ups alike. We thought we needed to give them some respect and have decided to trademark our sweets."[20]

Criticism of the stereotype

A BBC TV documentary suggested that "chav" culture is an evolution of previous working-class youth subcultures associated with particular commercial clothing styles, such as mods, skinheads, and casuals.[21]

In a February 2005 article in The Times, Julie Burchill argued that use of the word is a form of "social racism", and that such "sneering" reveals more about the shortcomings of the "chav-haters" than those of their supposed victims.[22] The writer John Harris argued along similar lines in a 2007 article in The Guardian.[23] The widespread use of the "chav" stereotype has been criticised.[24] Some argue that it amounts to simple snobbery and élitism.[25][17] Critics of the term have argued that its users are "neo-snobs",[26] and that its increasing popularity raises questions about how British society deals with social mobility and class.[27]

The Fabian Society see the term as offensive and regard it as "sneering and patronising" to a largely voiceless group. The term has been defined by tabloid headlines. It is language used to belittle. On describing those who use the term, the society stated that "we all know their old serviette/napkin, lounge/living room, settee/sofa tricks. But this is something new. This is middle class hatred of the white working class, pure and simple."[2] The Fabian Society have been highly critical of the BBC in using the term in broadcasts.[2][27] The term was reported in The Guardian in 2011 as "class abuse by people asserting superiority".[28]

Spread in the media

By 2004, the word was used in national newspapers and common parlance in the UK. Susie Dent's Larpers and Shroomers: The Language Report, published by the Oxford University Press, designated it as the "word of the year"[29] in 2004.[30]

Characters described as "chavs" have been featured in numerous British television programmes. The character, clothing, attitude and musical interests of Lauren Cooper and her friends in the BBC comedy series, The Catherine Tate Show, have been associated with the chav stereotype.[31] The comedy series Little Britain features a character with some similarities, Vicky Pollard.[32] In the British television series Misfits, the character of Kelly Bailey is presented as a stereotypical "chav".[33] Lauren Socha, the actress who portrays Kelly, has described the character as being "a bit chavvy".[34] The Times has referred to the character as "[a] chavvish girl",[35] and the character has been said to possess a "chav accent".[36] In the BBC TV series Doctor Who episode "New Earth", the character Lady Cassandra is transplanted into Rose Tyler's body (Billie Piper). When Cassandra sees herself in a mirror, she exclaims "Oh my God... I'm a chav!".[37]

See also

Comparable terms


  1. ^ "Definition of chav in Oxford Dictionaries (British & World English)". Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  2. ^ a b c "Stop using chav: it's deeply offensive". Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Heath, Olivia (19 June 2011). "Neets, asbos and chavs: labels of age discrimination". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "UK | 'Asbo' and 'chav' make dictionary". BBC News. 8 June 2005. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  6. ^ a b Quinion, Michael. "Chav". Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  7. ^ "The Sunday Night Project with Lily Allen: Chavette to Lady". Retrieved 2011-04-17. "[Etiquette expert Liz Brewer] is going to change them from chavette into perfect ladies." 
  8. ^ a b c d Crystal, Professor David. "Keep your English up to date Chav". Keep Your English Up To date. BBC World Service. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Why is 'chav' still controversial?". BBC. 3 June 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  10. ^ "Why is 'chav' still controversial?". BBC News. Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  11. ^ Manley, Lance (2010). Stab Proof Scarecrows, A Memoir Looking at Policing in the UK from a Trainee's Perspective. Leicester, England: Matador, Troubador Publishing Ltd. p. 369. ISBN 978-1-84876-297-8. 
  12. ^ Holden, Steve. "Plan B criticises word chav ahead of Ill Manors release". BBC. Retrieved 16 April 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c Vicky Pollard
  14. ^ Atkinson, Michael; Young, Kevin (18 June 2008). Tribal play: subcultural journeys through sport. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-7623-1293-1. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  15. ^ a b LARCOMBE, DUNCAN. "Future bling of England". The Sun. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  16. ^ "No but yeah but no". The Guardian. 12 May 2005. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  17. ^ a b John, Harris (11 April 2006). "Bottom of the Class". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  18. ^ King, Ian (12 January 2005). "Burberry not chavin' it". The Sun (London). 
  19. ^ Jones, Liz (2 June 2008). "The luxury brand with a chequered past, Burberry's shaken off its chav image to become the fashionistas' favourite once more". Daily Mail. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  20. ^ "Asda tries to trade mark "chav"". AOL NEWS. 
  21. ^ "British Style Genius". Season 1. Episode 5. 2008-11-04. 59 minutes in. BBC.
  22. ^ Burchill, Julie (18 February 2005). "Yeah but, no but, why I'm proud to be a chav". The Times (London). 
  23. ^ Harris, John (6 March 2007). "So now we've finally got our very own 'white trash'". The Guardian (London). 
  24. ^ Hayward, Keith; Yar, Majid (2006). "The 'chav' phenomenon: Consumption, media and the construction of a new underclass". Crime, Media, Culture 2 (1): 9–28. doi:10.1177/1741659006061708. 
  25. ^ Hampson, Tom (15 July 2008). "Ban the Word Chav". The Guardian (London). 
  26. ^ Bennett, Oliver (28 January 2004). "Sneer nation". The Independent (London). 
  27. ^ a b BBC (16 July 2008). "Stop use of 'Chav' – think tank". BBC. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  28. ^ Toynbee, Polly (31 May 2011). "Chav: the vile word at the heart of fractured Britain". Fostering the loathing of a feral underclass allows public resentment to be diverted from those above to those below. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  29. ^ Noel-Tod, Jeremy (3 April 2005). "Colourful whitewash". The Times Literary Supplement (London). Retrieved 2007-05-30. 
  30. ^ Dent, Susie (2004). Larpers and shroomers: the language report. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-861012-0. 
  31. ^ "'Chav-free holidays' cause outrage". Metro. 26 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  32. ^ McConnell, Donna (19 November 2007). "Queen of chavs: Kate dresses as 'Vicky Pollard' for pal's 80s birthday bash". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  33. ^ "Misfits – Kelly". Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  34. ^ "Lauren likes her Misfits character". Metro. 11 November 2009. Retrieved 23 November 2011. 
  35. ^ Gray, Sadie. "Misfits review by The Times". The Times. Retrieved 23 November 2011. 
  36. ^ Laws, Rob (21 November 2010). "Misfits star Lauren Socha reveals why she's changing her accent". Sunday Mercury. Retrieved 23 November 2011. 
  37. ^ "Doctor Who". Season Series 2 (2006). Episode 168. 15 April 2006. BBC.

Further reading