What’s wrong with saying ‘chav’?

Fiona Macgregor reckons ‘chav’ is a useful and acceptable generalisation.

Owen Jones, writer of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, tells us class hatred is ‘the last acceptable prejudice’. He scolds us soundly for bandying about the word ‘chav’, explaining, like a scandalised parent reacting to their child’s first swear word, that it is offensive and derogatory and should be as universally condemned as  the word ‘nigger’. He has an unlikely ally in the comedian Reginald D Hunter, who observes that ‘the only reason [the British] have a class system is ‘cause they are so crap at racism’.

I don’t take issue with the idea that British culture is permeated by snobbery and class consciousness. What’s irritating is social visionaries like Owen Jones exploiting the middle class sense of guilt – possibly due to the helpless feeling of being undeservedly over-privileged – to make people feel the need to bowdlerise their vocabularies and erase from the lexicon a perfectly practical word. It is a generalisation, but a useful one.

Of course, the argument is really against the air of superiority and distaste with which the word is often uttered. However I don’t believe for a second that tinkering with the acceptability of ‘chav’ will make an ounce of difference to these opinions.

And to be honest, I’m not at all certain that those at the receiving end would give one twitch of a pierced eyebrow for the good opinion of their oh-so-refined persecutors. Class hatred is anything but one-sided. The word ‘posh’ can be uttered with the disdain usually reserved for something the cat brought in after a good long wee on it. Other classes may not exactly be demonised, but are certainly despised. What makes the connotations of ‘chav’ so much more offensive than derogatory connotations of ‘snob’? Why need someone show more tact and sensitivity solely for being more privileged?

Jones’ argument of course has more substance than simply chastising us for the use of one word. He would urge us not to dismiss problems of unemployment and poverty with generalisations, imploring us to spare a thought for the deserving poor. Although Mr Doolittle, of Pygmalion, points out that though he is undeserving his needs are the same or more as the deserving: ‘I don’t eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more’ so perhaps even this distinction is unsatisfactory. So spare as many thoughts as you like for the poor, deserving or not, but seriously, feel free to guiltlessly say ‘chav’. After all, a chav by any other name would still call you a posh twat.


Bethany McCrave points out  that ‘chav’ is an expensive image, not a generalisation for the poor.

I like wearing my college hoody. It’s warm, suitable for most weathers and obviously it’s stash, so who couldn’t love it? But the media and the government between them have ruined this for me by coming up with this horrendous ‘chav ideal’, if you will, in the form of a ‘hoody’. Fiona makes no argument against Jones’ conception of a chav as a poor, poverty stricken, unemployed hoody-wearer, but this is certainly not what I see when I’m yelled at in the street by a teenager. I see someone who has spent real English pounds on clothes from JD Sports and ridiculously oversized shoes from Footlocker. It makes absolutely no sense that ‘chav’ and ‘poor’ have become as synonymous as Fiona suggests. Consider the demands of the chav lifestyle. Footlocker is not the cheapest, and you can’t just get away with going to the market if you want the silver drawstring bag as well.

Whoever said that using the word ‘chav’ was meant to be a way to express hatred of the working class? For one thing class is relative, in the sense that money can buy a much bigger house in Manchester or Newcastle for the same price as a terrace in Jericho, so any talk of class needs to be qualified to a point. A generalisation of chavs as poor and impoverished is useless when you find out that the hoody cost sixty quid.

Not that I can speak from personal experience, but it seems that to be a chav is to maintain an image, just like being ‘rah’, or even the dreaded ‘alternative’. So, when we lump all the people who upkeep this image under one name, we’re left with a generalisation which will self destruct when an event like the riots lets everyone just blame it on the chavs. The 30 year old school teacher and 50 year old chef sentenced for looting in London would beg to differ.

Once, the townie used to be a tracksuit bottom wearing, Burberry cap sporting ‘So Solid Crew’ fan – and what happened to this breed of teenager? The notion of chav is undoubtedly fluid, and has evolved over time. Just like all generalisations, this one will die out and the kids will move on to something else. In the mean time, let’s leave class debates to a Sunday night in the basement of the Three Goats Head’s, innit.

-PHOTO/The Arches