For some it has been a satisfying label to pin on Burberry check-wearing louts. But for others, it's a nasty, coded attack on the working class. And for some commentators the word chav is now at the heart of Britain's obsession with class.
There are plenty of people for whom the word is harmless. Daily Telegraph blogger James Delingpole argues it's a harmless updating of "oik".
But more left-leaning commentators have seen it as shorthand for bashing the poor. In 2008 the Fabian Society urged the BBC to put it on their list of offensive terms. "This is middle class hatred of the white working class, pure and simple," wrote Tom Hampsen, the society's editorial director. He also called on the Commission for Equality and Human Rights to take this kind of class discrimination seriously.
Now a new book - Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class - argues the word is a coded attack on the poor. "As inequality has widened it's a way of people saying that the people at the bottom deserve to be there," says Owen Jones, the book's author.
4. Be serious - it's about far more than the clothes people wear
All you have to do is look at the way it's normally used. It's not about clothes, or a look - it's criticism of behaviour. It's arguable whether it's a general attack on the poor, or it's aimed only at people who really are antisocial or dishonest, and happen to be poor too - but 'just a dress code', is, in your words, complete bollocks.
were simply from a descriptive visual point of view : not a condemnation of "speech or attitude" - that's their own affair and other "groups" don't bother me in that way anyway....I probably wouldn't even notice.
Until now I wasn't aware the expression was known outside of the UK - I've only ever been aware of it in context with Essex and Kent.
And it both implies that certain behaviour is typical of working-class individuals, and that it's more serious in working-class than better-off people. Thus, the people who most typically use the term will treat a young working-class man who drinks, takes drugs, or commits vandalism as irredeemably morally inferior, a 'chav', while a rich young member of the Bullingdon Club who does the same things may be seen as just 'sowing his wild oats'.
17. Yes, I've been told that class differentiations are completely different in the UK
It's not just about money but also about upbringing and the society in which one was brought up. Someone from a working class background may get defensive if you label them as middle class by U.S. standards. We tend to lump everyone into the middle class perhaps making distinctions between lower middle class and upper middle class as opposed to strongly delineating a working class.
8. Because of the way it's used: to attack poor and working class people
'Oiks' does have a similar implication; but it is not as often used seriously nowadays - though our outrageous County Council leader in Oxfordshire does use it. On the whole, tabloids will not contain articles attacking and ridiculing 'oiks', while they do so about 'chavs'. And the implication is that working-class people are badly-behaved, stupid and undeserving.
The term probably has the same sort of associations as 'white trash' in America.
James Delingpole is a nasty right-winger, best known for his obsession with denial of global warming.
13. all this handwringing would be meaningful if the term
Edited on Fri Jun-03-11 08:21 AM by dmallind
were applied to the working class in toto or indiscriminately. It's not. If one middle class person pointed to a group of building laborers for example, wearing normal clothes and just chatting about sports at the pub, and said to his middle class friend "look at those chavs", he would get in return either a blank look or a snigger at misused slang. Put a group of any class in track suits and Burberry baseball caps and heavy jewelry and have them behave obnoxiously then it's appropriate and accepted usage. Just because the "style" is more popular among the working class does not make use of the term a proxy for them. Only a tiny minority of the working class would be called chavs by any informed user of the word, and only when they adopt that style. Just like all poor people in the US are not called "rednecks", but a wealthier individual sporting a mullet, a torn NASCAR T shirt, cigarette-sponsored baseball cap and wispy mustache while driving his 80s Camaro would be, even if he were an orthodontist.
If it isn't applied to all members of class X just those who exhibit certain behaviors, and is applied to members of class Y who exhibit the same behaviors, how can it be class based not behavior based?
I don't think white trash is a good analogy because clearly that IS class based. Mel Gibson never gets called white trash regardless of his boorishness. "Trash" just like "trailer trash" clearly has connotations of those who live squalid lives.
I used white trash as an example for that reason. It is class based even though sometimes people who aren't poor are called white trash. Therefore I think it's possible for an insult to be class based even if it sometimes applies to those who aren't in that class.
26. But again - only a subset based on style/behavior
Not all poor = chav. Some rich = chav. Common denominator for chav is appearance and behavior. Sure the appearance and behavior is more prevalent among the working class, but that's like saying murderer is a gender-based term because the vast majority of murderers are men.
33. Do you really think that class distinctions aren't based on appearance?
Edited on Fri Jun-03-11 10:49 AM by Pithlet
They certainly are. People absolutely do make their own decision on how they choose to look and judge others on how they look very often based on class. Judgment of style and behavior are wrapped in class distinction all the time. That is how it is class based.
35. Appearances and behavior are chosen. Class is not, per se.
Sure if I were shown a picture of an unkempt dirty man in stained clothing and asked to "guess the class" I would choose working - while remaining fully cognizant it could be the Duke of Norfolk working on his hobby of raising roses. And that immaculately groomed chap in the perfectly tailored evening dress could be an assistant butcher from Barnsley who rented it for his wedding. But nobody rational assumes these are not possible. Class can never be deduced from a single encounter and no further information (silly exceptions such as the one everybody is bowing to at a royal event is probably not working class notwithstanding). If you see a gang of loutish teens in ghastly overdone attire they may be the children of garbage men or the children of earls, but they will be chavs regardless, and made so by their actions, not their wealth or background.
37. Right. But people will often choose and judge with class in mind
It's true that you can't automatically assume someone's class based on appearance. But people do judge based on that all the same, and make choices based on their own appearance as well. That is why, just because the deal with Chavs is appearance based, doesn't mean it isn't based on class. In fact, a clue that tells me it might at least be in part class based is the whole thing about Burberry becoming less popular with the upper crust when it became popular with Chavs.
32. nobody really knows, but almost no slang terms come from acronyms
...military jargon aside. Plenty get acronyms retroactively applied. We see this with profanities like "fuck" being "for unlawful carnal knowledge" or "fornicating under command of the king" when really it comes from a boring old Germanic word "fokk" meaning to bang against something. The Romansh link makes some sense, as the style itself is not too far from stereotypical "pikey" garb, but like most slang it's difficult to say.
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