A "scally" wearing a burberry cap
A chav impersonator, wearing a navy Puma King tracksuit

A chav (play /ˈæv/ chav) is a term under the umbrella categorization of fashion victim that is used in the United Kingdom to describe a stereotype of lower class young people. The term is applied by upper class youths to lower class youths that emulate the extravagant style of the posh[1] with the limited resources they have available. Mixed with the faux gear are the characteristic attributes of a poorly educated and socially constrained population. Also known as a charver in Yorkshire and North East England[2] "chavs" are said to be aggressive and arrogant teenagers and young adults, of underclass background, who repeatedly engage in anti-social behaviour such as street drinking, drug abuse and rowdiness, or other forms of juvenile delinquency.[3]



The Oxford University Press has said that the word is "generally thought to come from Chatham girls",[4][5] but, according to etymologist Michael Quinion, the term probably has its origins in the Romani word "chavi", meaning "child"[5][6] (or "chavo", meaning "boy",[4] or "chavvy", meaning "youth"[7]).[8] This word may have entered the English language through the Geordie dialect word charva, meaning a rough child.[9] This is similar to the colloquial Spanish word chaval, meaning "kid" or "guy".[4][10] Unlike the Geordie variant, the term derived from Chatham can be applied loosely to every culture with a nasty, thieving element.

The derivative chavette has been used to refer to females.[11] The adjectives "chavish" and "chavtastic" apply to stuff designed for or suitable for use by Chavs.[12]

Many urban legends have sprung up around the etymology of the word. These include the backronym "Council Housed And Violent" or "Council House-Associated Vermin",[2] and the suggestion that pupils at Cheltenham Ladies' College and Cheltenham College used the word to describe the young men of the town ("Cheltenham Average").[13] However, Quinion writes that "we must treat supposed acronymic origins with the greatest suspicion; these examples are definitely recent after-the-event inventions as attempts to explain the word, though very widely known and believed."[8]

By 2005, media references to 'Chavs' had spread the word throughout Britain. The Chav's cultural equivalents are: in Ireland - "Skanger", Scotland - "Ned", East Anglia - "Yarco" [12], Eastern North America - Guido,[14]

Central and South America -  Mamón, universal term - Fashion victim.


A chav stereotype, with Adidas jog pants, Nike jacket and a Burberry cap.

Chavs are widely known for their counterfeit designer clothing and sportswear, in which they usually buy from Sports Direct, JJB Sports and JD Sports.[15][16] Brands such as Adidas,[17] Nike,[18] Reebok,[19] Puma,[20] Umbro,[20] Ecko,[20] Carbrini and Kappa[17] are very popular, with many chavs often wearing a full tracksuit or tracksuit bottoms, with a hoodie or polyester jacket, baseball cap and oversized trainers. Clothing attire is usually navy, white, black, red or grey for the chav male, and pink and white are very common with the "chavette", particularly jogging bottoms, velour tracksuits or shell suits.[21] Stereotypical attire is usually accompanied by some form of bling, such as oversized gold hoop earrings and necklaces, bracelets and rings, and an abundance of tattoos.

A young woman displaying some of the "chavette [1]" traits

Several stereotypical traits are associated with chavs; smoking, drinking and taking drugs[22] in gangs on street corners and outside shops, petty thievery and violence,[23] vandalism and graffiti, an exaggerated "tough" gangster-like voice and lingo and foul, aggressive language (with common expressions such as "Am I bovvered" or "Warru on about"), council house/flat accommodation, unemployment and state benefits scrounging (and despite this still appearing to have money for show),[23] teenage girls being sexually promiscuous and smoking whilst pregnant,[24][25] driving a highly modified and chromed up Vauxhall Nova (in particular),[18] Vauxhall Cavalier,[26] Ford Sierra, Ford Escort[27] or Austin Metro, usually souped up with alloys, stickers, oversized spoiler, side panels, exhaust pipe and engine,[28] painted white or in some flamboyant colour, enhanced speakers blasting hip-hop, R&B, garage,[18] drum and bass or rave/jungle music,[18][29] and chewing whilst being spoken to. Stereotypical chavs tend to sport skinheads,[24] or very short hair with short back and sides and fringe, usually gelled down. However, particularly in northern British cities such as Manchester, it is fashionable for some chavs to sport longer hair and sides in the Mod fashion. "Chavettes" stereotypically wear their hair tightly scraped back into a ponytail or bun, known as the "Council house face lift".[29][30]

Commercial effect

A cartoon of a stereotypical "chav".

Burberry is a clothing company whose products became associated with the "chav" stereotype. Burberry's appeal to "chav" fashion sense is a sociological example of prole drift, where an up-market product begins to be consumed en masse by a lower socio-economic group. Burberry has argued that the brand's popular association with "chav" fashion sense is linked to counterfeit versions of the clothing. "They’re yesterday's news", stated Stacey Cartwright, the CEO of Burberry. "It was mostly counterfeit, and Britain accounts for less than 10% of our sales anyway."[31]

The company has taken a number of steps to distance itself from the stereotype. It ceased production of its own branded baseball cap in 2004 and has scaled back the use of its trademarked checkered/tartan design to such an extent that it now only appears on the inner linings and other very low-key positions of their clothing.[32][33] It has also taken legal action against high-profile infringements of the brand.

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."[34]

Criticism of the stereotype

Graffiti art with a self-deprecating theme "Chav City"

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.[35]

The widespread use of the "chav" stereotype has come in for some criticism.[36] Some argue[37] that it amounts to simple snobbery and elitism.[38] Critics of the term have argued that its users are "neo-snobs",[39] and that its increasing popularity raises questions about how British society deals with social mobility and class.[3] 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.[40] The writer John Harris argued along similar lines in a 2007 article in The Guardian.[41]

Characterisation in the media

Response to the stereotype has ranged from amusement to criticism that it is a new manifestation of classism.[38]

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"[42] in 2004.[43] A survey in 2005 found that in December 2004 alone 114 British newspaper articles used the word. The popularity of the word has led to the creation of sites devoted to cataloguing and mocking the "chav" lifestyle.

The "Chavalier", a Vauxhall Cavalier decorated in Burberry lookalike check for Goldie Lookin' Chain.

The Welsh rap group, Goldie Lookin Chain, have been described as both embodying and satirising the "chav" aesthetic, though the group themselves deny any such agenda, simply making a mockery of the subject.[44] The British car-tuning magazine Max Power once had a beige Mk3 Vauxhall Cavalier stickered to make it look like the Burberry check, named it the "Chavalier" and gave it to the band.

R&B singer/rapper Jentina, footballer Wayne Rooney[45] and his wife Coleen,[46] rapper Lady Sovereign,[47] glamour model Jordan,[48] actress Danniella Westbrook,[3] former Big Brother contestant Jade Goody,[49][50][51] and Kerry Katona[52] have also been labelled "chavs" by British tabloids and broadsheets.

In the BBC TV series Doctor Who, Episode New Earth, 15th April, 2006, 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!".[53]

The 2007 film St Trinian's includes among characters who form cliques in a girls' boarding school, the "chavs", depicted as anti-social bullies.

Characters described as "chavs" have occurred in a number of 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.[54] The comedy series Little Britain features a character with some similarities, Vicky Pollard.[55]

In the Channel Four G4 TV show Freaky, the magician Michael J. Fitch uses a persona called "The Chav".

In the 2005 reality TV programme Bad Lads' Army: Officer Class, a number of small-time thieves and street brawlers underwent 1950s style National Service Army training to see which of them would be worthy of becoming a British Army officer. The motto of the show was to convert "chavs" into "chaps".[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ posh, n.3. OED Online. September 2011. Third edition, December 2006; online version September 2011. accessed 17 November 2011. This word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1907, as a subentry of “posh, n.1”.
  2. ^ a b Anoop Nayak and Steve Drayton. "To charv or not to charver – that is the question". Inside Out – North East. BBC. Retrieved 2005-02-21. 
  3. ^ a b c Smith, Alison (2005-06-14). "Media student 'expert on chavs'". BBC News. 
  4. ^ a b c "chav". Oxford University Press:. Retrieved 2009-11-15. "In Britain there are many words to describe people from this social group, and they are often limited to a particular town or region. Other words with a similar meaning to chav are townie, scally, ned and charver. The word chav has become common in southern England, and is generally thought to come from Chatham girls (Chatham is a town in Kent.) Some people think, however, that the word comes originally from the Romany word chavo (boy), which is also the origin of the Spanish word chaval." 
  5. ^ a b "UK | 'Asbo' and 'chav' make dictionary". BBC News. 2005-06-08. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  6. ^ "'Asbo' and 'chav' make dictionary". BBC News. 2005-06-08. Retrieved 2006-09-02. 
  7. ^ "Savvy Chavvy: social entrepreneurs engage gypsies". London: The Telegraph. 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2008-12-24. ""'Chavvy' being the old Romany word for 'youth'"" 
  8. ^ a b Quinion, Michael. "Chav". Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  9. ^ "Wiktionary – charva". 
  10. ^ Tweedie, Neil (2005-08-10). "Don't be a plank. Read this and get really clueful". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 2006-09-02. 
  11. ^ "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." 
  12. ^ a b "UK | 'Asbo' and 'chav' make dictionary". BBC News. 2005-06-08. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  13. ^ Tweedie, Neil (2004-12-13). "Cheltenham ladies and the chavs". London: Daily Telegraph. 
  14. ^ guido, n. OED Online. September 2011. Third edition, December 2004; online version September 2011. Accessed 17 November 2011.
  15. ^ "BBC News - Why is 'chav' still controversial?". 2011-06-03. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  16. ^ "Chav: the vile word at the heart of fractured Britain | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free". The Guardian. 2008-05-28. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  17. ^ a b 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. 
  18. ^ a b c d Jardine, Crombie; Bok, Lee (11 May 2006). The Chav Guide to Life. Crombie Jardine Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-905102-33-4. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  19. ^ Wallace, Mia; Spanner, Clint (12 July 2005). Chav! A User's Guide to Britain's New Ruling Class. Transworld Publishers. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-553-81713-3. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  20. ^ a b c Pickton, David; Masterson, Rosalind (1 October 2010). Marketing: An Introduction. SAGE Publications. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-84920-571-9. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  21. ^ Browning, Paul W. The Good Guys Wear Blue. Paul Browning. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-9557815-0-6. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  22. ^ St Edmund's School, Portsmouth (15 July 2008). Mindsamaze 3. Hodgson Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-906164-03-4. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  23. ^ a b Greco, Monica; Stenner, Paul (2008). Emotions: a social science reader. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-42564-3. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  24. ^ a b Jones, Owen (15 July 2011). Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Verso Books. p. 114. ISBN 978-1-84467-696-5. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  25. ^ Tea and Crumpet. JMS Books LLC. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-61152-141-2. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  26. ^ The New Yorker. August 2009. p. 79. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  27. ^ Theatre record. I. Herbert. 1 January 2007. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  28. ^ Adbusters. Media Foundation. 2007. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  29. ^ a b Donoghue, John (1 August 2011). Police, Crime And 999: The True Story of a Front Line Officer. Troubador Publishing Ltd. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-84876-685-3. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  30. ^ Dent, Susie (4 October 2007). The language report. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923388-5. Retrieved 12 August 2011. 
  31. ^ King, Ian (2005-01-12). "Burberry not chavin' it". London: The Sun. 
  32. ^ "The £16m woman takes on Burberry". London: The Times. 2005-10-16.,,9065-1827255,00.html. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  33. ^ Tweedie, Neil (2005-10-12). "Check out the height of ferret fashion. Burberry has". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  34. ^ "Asda tries to trade mark "chav"". AOL NEWS. 
  35. ^ British Style Genius. BBC. 2008-11-04. No. 5, season 1. 59 minutes in.
  36. ^ 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. 
  37. ^ Hampson, Tom (2008-07-15). "Ban the Word Chav". London: The Guardian. 
  38. ^ a b John, Harris (2006-04-11). "Bottom of the Class". London: The Guardian.,,1751272,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  39. ^ Bennett, Oliver (2004-01-28). "Sneer nation". London: The Independent. 
  40. ^ Burchill, Julie (2005-02-18). "Yeah but, no but, why I'm proud to be a chav". London: The Times.,,7-1488120,00.html. 
  41. ^ Harris, John (2007-03-06). "So now we've finally got our very own 'white trash'". London: The Guardian.,,2027396,00.html. 
  42. ^ Noel-Tod, Jeremy (2005-04-03). "Colourful whitewash". London: The Times Literary Supplement.,,25348-1888521,00.html. Retrieved 2007-05-30. 
  43. ^ Dent, Susie (2004). Larpers and shroomers: the language report. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198610120. 
  44. ^ "Goldie Lookin' Chain: Chain reaction". London: The Independent. 2004-08-13. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  45. ^ Wheeler, Brian (2005-06-30). "Leave chavs alone, say MPs". BBC News. 
  46. ^ Patrick, Guy (2007-05-24). "Chav a merry Xmas, Roo". London: The Sun.,,2-2005570777,00.html. 
  47. ^ Davis, Johnny (2006-04-15). "Lady Sovereign: The country's fourth biggest chav". London: The Independent. 
  48. ^ Byrnes, Sholto (2005-09-11). "Say cheese! Camilla and the Queen of Chav enjoy two right royal weddings". London: The Independent. 
  49. ^ Price, Simon (11 April 2004). "Faux peasants, a faux fascist and five to watch out for...". London: Retrieved 2009-09-20. 
  50. ^ McVeigh, Karen (19 October 2004). "Doff your caps to the chavs ...they're THE word of 2004". Archived from the original on 2008-01-07. Retrieved 2009-09-21. (retrieved at WayBack Machine)
  51. ^ Liddle, Rod (October 22, 2006). "Regrets, they’ve had a few – mainly over not having more sex – Give God His share, Dawkins". London: The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  52. ^ Pearlman, Natasha (2006-10-06). "The Chav Rich List". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  53. ^ Doctor Who. BBC. 2006-4-15. No. 168, season Series 2 (2006).
  54. ^ "'Chav-free holidays' cause outrage". 2009-01-26. Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  55. ^ McConnell, Donna (2007-11-19). "Queen of chavs: Kate dresses as 'Vicky Pollard' for pal's 80s birthday bash". London: Retrieved 2009-11-15. 

Further reading

  • Keith Hayward and Majid Yar (2006). "The "chav" phenomenon: Consumption, media and the construction of a new underclass". Crime, Media, Culture 2 (1): 9–28. doi:10.1177/1741659006061708. 
  • Jones, Owen (2011) Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class ISBN-13: 978-1844676965


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  • chav * — Noun. A person, usually of poorly educated, working class origin, who dresses casually in designer sportswear and vulgar jewellery. Chavs are generally viewed as an ignorant under class with a propensity for criminal or loutish behaviour. Usually …   English slang and colloquialisms

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