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"Chav" (/æv/), also "charver", "scally" and "roadman" in parts of England, is a British term, usually used in a pejorative way. The term is used to describe an anti-social lower-class youth dressed in sportswear.[1] The use of the word has been described as a form of "social racism". "Chavette" is a related term referring to female chavs, and the adjectives "chavvy", "chavvish", and "chavtastic" are used to describe things associated with chavs, such as fashion, slang, etc.[2] In other countries like Ireland, "Skanger" is used in a similar manner.[3] In Canada, in the province of British Columbia they're known as "Surrey jacks". In Ontario (particularly in Toronto), the term is "hoodman", an equivalent of the term "roadman" used in England.[4] In Newfoundland, "skeet" is used in a similar way,[5] while in Australia, "eshay" or "adlay" is used.[6]


Opinion is divided on the origin of the term. "Chav" may have its origins in the Romani word "chavi", meaning "child".[2][7] The word "chavvy" 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 c. 1860.[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][10] By 2005, the term had become widespread in its use as to refer to a type of anti-social, uncultured youth, who wear excessive flashy jewellery, white athletic shoes, baseball caps, and sham designer clothes. The girls commonly wear clothing which exposes their midriff.[11]

In his 2011 book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, Owen Jones argued that the word is an attack on the poor.[10] In the 2010 book Stab Proof Scarecrows by Lance Manley, it was surmised that "chav" was an abbreviation for "council housed and violent".[12] Others regard this as a backronym.[7] 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.[13]

In 2013 linguist David Crystal said on BBC Learning English:

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.[11]

It has also been suggested that the term is derived from the name of the town of Chatham, in Kent, but the Oxford English Dictionary thinks this is "probably a later rationalization".[9]


Caricature of a chav
Caricature of a chav

Besides referring to loutish (ill-mannered) behaviour, violence, and particular speech patterns (all of which are stereotypes), the chav stereotype includes wearing branded designer sportswear,[14] which may be accompanied by some form of flashy gold jewellery otherwise termed as "bling". They have been described as adopting "black culture".[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 (see § In the media below). A 2006 survey by YouGov suggested 70% of TV industry professionals believed that Vicky Pollard was an accurate reflection of white working-class youth.[10]

Response to the stereotype has ranged from amusement to criticism, with some saying 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.[18]

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 (Burberry check) was due to the widespread availability of cheaper counterfeit versions.[citation needed]

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."[19]

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.[20]

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.[21] The writer John Harris argued along similar lines in a 2007 article in The Guardian.[22] The widespread use of the "chav" stereotype has been criticised.[23] Some argue that it amounts to simple snobbery and elitism.[17][24] Critics of the term have argued that its users are "neo-snobs",[25] and that its increasing popularity raises questions about how British society deals with social mobility and class.[26]

The Fabian Society considers the term to be offensive and regards it as "sneering and patronising" to a largely voiceless group. On describing those who use the word, 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.[27] Use of the term 'chav' was reported in The Guardian in 2011 as "class abuse by people asserting superiority".[28] Writer Owen Jones also criticised the use of the term in his book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class.

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, as well as films. 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 BBC comedy series Little Britain features the character Vicky Pollard (portrayed by Matt Lucas), a parody of a teenage female chav. In the British television series Misfits, the character of Kelly Bailey is presented as a stereotypical chav.[32] Lauren Socha, the actress who portrays Kelly, has described the character as being "a bit chavvy".[33] The Times has referred to the character as "[a] chavvish girl",[34] and the character has been said to possess a "chav accent".[35]

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!"[36] In Kingsman: The Secret Service, the main character Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) is introduced as a stereotypical chav.[37]

See also



  1. ^
    • "Definition of chav in Oxford Dictionaries (British & World English)". Archived from the original on 2 September 2013. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
    • "Stop using chav: it's deeply offensive". Fabian Society. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
    • Crystal, David. "Chav". Keep Your English Up To date. BBC World Service. Archived from the original on 28 February 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
    • Heath, Olivia (19 June 2011). "Neets, asbos and chavs: labels of age discrimination". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  2. ^ a b "UK | 'Asbo' and 'chav' make dictionary". BBC News. 8 June 2005. Archived from the original on 10 November 2005. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  3. ^ Coleman, Julie (2012). The Life of Slang. Oxford University Press. p. 276. ISBN 9780191630729.
  4. ^ Wilkinson, Raven-Paige. "Cultural Exchange and the Transformation of Jamaican Patois in the Greater Toronto Area" (PDF). Curve Carleton.
  5. ^ Hiscock, Philip (12 September 2016). "Why don't skeets know they're skeets?". CBC News.
  6. ^ Willing, Julia (25 June 2021). "Australians Are Explaining What An "Eshay" Is To The Rest Of The World And I'm Cackling". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  7. ^ a b Quinion, Michael. "Chav". World Wide Words. Archived from the original on 15 April 2006. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  8. ^ Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (Third ed.). New York: The MacMillan Company. 1950. p. 143.
  9. ^ a b "chav, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  10. ^ a b c "Why is 'chav' still controversial?". Magazine. BBC. 3 June 2011. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  11. ^ a b Crystal, David. "Chav". Keep Your English Up To date. BBC World Service. Archived from the original on 28 February 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Holden, Steve (13 March 2012). "Plan B criticises word chav ahead of Ill Manors release". Newsbeat. BBC News. Archived from the original on 15 March 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  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. Archived from the original on 15 June 2013. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  15. ^ Nisha Kapoor (28 June 2013). The State of Race. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 50–. ISBN 978-1-137-31308-9.
  16. ^ "No but yeah but no". The Guardian. 12 May 2005. Archived from the original on 19 February 2014. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  17. ^ a b Harris, John (11 April 2006). "Bottom of the Class". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 24 February 2007.
  18. ^ Heath, Olivia (19 June 2011). "Neets, asbos and chavs: labels of age discrimination". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  19. ^ "Asda tries to trade mark "chav"". AOL NEWS. Archived from the original on 11 October 2007.
  20. ^ "Loud and Proud – The Street Look". British Style Genius. Season 1. Episode 5. 4 November 2008. 59 minutes in. BBC.
  21. ^ Burchill, Julie (18 February 2005). "Yeah but, no but, why I'm proud to be a chav". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 15 October 2008. Retrieved 2 November 2005.
  22. ^ Harris, John (6 March 2007). "So now we've finally got our very own 'white trash'". The Guardian. London.
  23. ^ 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. S2CID 145421834.
  24. ^ Hampson, Tom; Olchawski, Jemima (15 July 2008). "Ban the word 'chav'". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 16 September 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  25. ^ Bennett, Oliver (28 January 2004). "Sneer nation". The Independent. London.[dead link]
  26. ^ "Stop use of 'Chav' – think tank". BBC News. 16 July 2008. Archived from the original on 30 January 2009. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
  27. ^ "Stop using chav: it's deeply offensive". Fabian Society. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  28. ^ Toynbee, Polly (31 May 2011). "Chav: the vile word at the heart of fractured Britain". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 24 May 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  29. ^ Noel-Tod, Jeremy (3 April 2005). "Colourful whitewash". The Times Literary Supplement. London. Archived from the original on 29 September 2006. Retrieved 30 May 2007.
  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. Archived from the original on 8 May 2019. Retrieved 15 November 2009.
  32. ^ "Misfits – Kelly". Archived from the original on 13 November 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
  33. ^ "Lauren likes her Misfits character". Metro. 11 November 2009. Archived from the original on 23 May 2014. Retrieved 8 May 2009.
  34. ^ Gray, Sadie. "Misfits review by The Times". The Times. Archived from the original on 1 May 2020. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  35. ^ Laws, Roz (21 November 2010). "Misfits star Lauren Socha reveals why she's changing her accent". Sunday Mercury. Archived from the original on 17 November 2011. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  36. ^ "New Earth". Doctor Who. Season 2. Episode 168. 15 April 2006. BBC.
  37. ^ Lawson, Richard (12 February 2015). "Kingsman: The Secret Service Is Crazy Violent, and Endlessly Entertaining". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on 30 November 2017. Retrieved 4 December 2017.

Further reading

External links