Chav (// CHAV) is a pejorative epithet used in Britain to describe a particular stereotype. The word 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. The Oxford English 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". The derivative chavette has been used to refer to females, and the adjectives "chavish" and "chavtastic" have been used in relation to items designed for or suitable for use by chavs.
Opinion is divided on the origin of the term. Chav may have its origins in the Romani word chavi, meaning "child". The word has existed since at least the 19th century; lexicographer Eric Partridge mentions it in his 1950 dictionary of slang and unconventional English, giving its date of origin as ca. 1860.
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. 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, and sham designer clothes; the girls expose a lot of midriff.
In his 2011 book, Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class, Owen Jones surmised that the word is an attack on the poor. In the 2010 book Stab Proof Scarecrows by Lance Manley, it was surmised that "chav" was an abbreviation for "council housed and violent". This is widely regarded as a backronym, a constructed acronym created to fit an existing word. This interpretation of the word was used in a 2012 public statement by Rapper Plan B as he spoke out to oppose the use of the term.
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.
Besides referring to loutish behaviour, violence, and particular speech patterns, the chav stereotype includes wearing branded designer sportswear, which may be accompanied by some form of flashy gold jewellery otherwise termed as "bling".
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", both referring to a BBC comedy character. Created by radio host Matt Lucas for the show Little Britain, the character Vicky Pollard is a teenage girl intended to parody a chav. A 2006 survey by YouGov suggested 70% of TV industry professionals believed that Vicky Pollard was an accurate reflection of white working-class youth. 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".
Response to the stereotype has ranged from amusement to criticism, with some saying that it is a new manifestation of classism. 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.
In 2005 the fashion house Burberry, whilst deriding chavs, claimed that the widespread fashion in the UK of chavs wearing its branded style (Burberry check) was due to the widespread availability of cheaper counterfeit versions. In 2008, in response to the continuing rise in popularity among chavs of the Burberry brand, Christopher Bailey, who was responsible for the company’s image, said "I'm proud we had such a democratic appeal."
The large supermarket chain Asda has attempted to trademark the word "chav" for a 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."
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.
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. The writer John Harris argued along similar lines in a 2007 article in The Guardian. The widespread use of the "chav" stereotype has been criticised. Some argue that it amounts to simple snobbery and elitism. Critics of the term have argued that its users are "neo-snobs", and that its increasing popularity raises questions about how British society deals with social mobility and class.
The Fabian Society sees the term as offensive and regards it as "sneering and patronising" to a largely voiceless group. 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." The Fabian Society have been highly critical of the BBC in using the term in broadcasts. The term was reported in The Guardian in 2011 as "class abuse by people asserting superiority".
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" in 2004.
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. The comedy series Little Britain features a character intended as a chav parody, Vicky Pollard. In the British television series Misfits, the character of Kelly Bailey is presented as a stereotypical "chav". Lauren Socha, the actress who portrays Kelly, has described the character as being "a bit chavvy". The Times has referred to the character as "[a] chavvish girl", and the character has been said to possess a "chav accent". In the "New Earth" episode of the BBC TV series Doctor Who, 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!".
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[Etiquette expert Liz Brewer] is going to change them from chavette into perfect ladies.
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- Jones, Owen (2011). Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Verso. ISBN 978-1844676965.
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