- February 27, 2008
- Posted by: Madrigal Admin
- Category: Word of the Week Blog
The term ‘chav’ gained much popularity in England and spawned several websites. I was reminded of it by a story in the Sydney Morning Herald (1). It is a derogatory, slang term for a cultural stereotype; a condescending reference to the English underclass. The stereotype is characterised by fashions such as tracksuits worn with imitation designer clothing (often Burberry, an up-market fashion house, which is not overjoyed with the endorsement) as well as anti-social and inappropriate behaviour.
The phenomenon was explored in detail at the Chavscum website (2). It introduced itself with this array:
Chavs, Hoodies, Neds, Townies, Kevs, Charvers, Steeks, Spides, Bazzas, Yarcos, Ratboys, Kappa Slappers, Skangers, Scutters, Janners, Stigs, Scallies, Hood Rats, whatever you know them as, … Britain’s peasant underclass … are taking over our towns and cities!
I spent some time living in Tewkesbury a few miles from Cheltenham in England’s south-west. Locals from Cheltenham, a well-to-do Georgian town, suggested that chav is derived from ‘Cheltenham Average’ – supposedly coined at Cheltenham Ladies College (one of England’s most posh schools) to describe the young men of the town.
The more widespread and popular theory is it derives from ‘Chatham Average’. Chatham is a large town south-east of London in Kent. Linguists agree that ‘chav’ comes from Kent but think it has an older meaning, deriving from the Romany (or gypsy) word, ‘chavi’, meaning male child or boy (3). Kent has close historical links to the Romany community.
While I was in Tewkesbury, my brother-in-law came into conflict with the local chavs (in this case Cheltenham Averages). They had taken to exercising their cars late at night in the car park near his house. He unsuccessfully tried to get them to keep quiet. Appeals to the police and council failed.
The incident took an ironic turn during the massive floods of 2007. It was these same ‘chavs’ who helped him try to prevent sightseers in expensive four-wheel-drives (what the English call ‘Chelsea tractors’) from swamping his house with the waves they created.
Chav cars are usually cheap ‘bangers’ that are unsuccessfully done up to look flash. This varies in proficiency from elaborate paint jobs to false exhaust pipes.
In 2006 Brighton and Hove’s council created a ‘Chavrolet’, one of a fleet of 12 motorised rickshaws, to carry around tourists. It was painted in Burberry tartan. The council had to repaint the chavrolet when Burberry threatened legal action (4).
In the north of England the chav is called a charver. The BBC used a story from the charverwatch website as an anthropological insight:
I was on the back seat of a 38 bus heading for the West End, when two charver lasses parked themselves next to me. They were talking about last night, when one asked the other how she’d got on with Scott.
“He took me behind the Youth Club and we had a snog. Then he put his hand straight up me skort.”
“He nivva! What did y’dee?”
“Ah smacked him rund the heed and telt’im ‘where’s your f***in’ manners? It’s tits first!'”
Also from this site’s Charver Dictionary (6), one definition sums it all up in a couple of sentences:
bella n. Bella Brusco, a cheap sparkling white wine that gets one peeved-up for a couple of quid a bottle. It’s the Charver Carva, perfect for that tab-lit chip supper and best served at bus-stop temperature.
1. Wajnryb, Ruth. Omigod, the whaletails are eating the muffin tops Sydney Morning Herald SPECTRUM pp26-27 February 16-17 2008; 2. Chavscum website not currently available (February 2008); 3. BBC Voices; 4. Kwintner, Adrian. Burberry drives tuk-tuk off road, Brighton & Hove Argus, 13 September 2006; 5. Charverwatch website 6. Charver Central Charver Dictionary