Stop using chav: it's deeply offensive
It might be hard to say this without sounding priggish or being accused of being rather more politically correct than is healthy, but here goes… We have to stop using the word ‘chav’, argues Tom Hampson in the upcoming Fabian Review.

Would I get away with saying ‘faggot’ on the BBC? No – there are very few circumstances where that would be acceptable. Would the Guardian print the word ‘pikey’? Well they have done five times this year (three times were earnest discussions about the word’s racism, and the other two were, well, a bit racist). Can you use the word ‘gay’ as a general derogative (as in ‘those are really gay trainers’) on Radio 1? Well yes, it turns out that you can, according to the BBC Trust. Could I use the word ‘n*****’ in the Fabian Review? Well probably not, especially when making the point that there is rightly a hierarchy of offensiveness. Some uses of some words fall below the threshold of acceptability and some are definitely above it.


‘Chav’ is way above that threshold. It is deeply offensive to a largely voiceless group and – especially when used in normal middle-class conversation or on national TV – it betrays a deep and revealing level of class hatred.


The phenomenon of the word has grown over the last five years. Initially it was purely a term of abuse. (You only have to visit the website to see this – have a look at it and be appalled.) But more recently it has become rather more insidious than that because it is so much more widely used. I have heard it increasingly used in c conversation over the last year, invariably to casually describe people ‘not like us’ and very often used by people who are otherwise rather progressive in their politics.


You cannot consider yourself of the left and use the word. It is sneering and patronising and – perhaps most dangerous – it is distancing, turning the ‘chav’ into the kind of feral beast that exists only in tabloid headlines. The middle classes have always used language to distinguish themselves from those a few rungs below them on the ladder – 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.


Part of the problem is about voice. When Little Britain, Graham Norton, and Jonathan Ross are given the BBC’s green light to portray gay people in ways that many gay people are uncomfortable with, we do at least have Stonewall to defend us (see their excellent ‘Tuned Out’ report from last year). But who does the white working class have? You might think they would at least have the progressive left, but it would seem not.


The BBC should specify the word in its guidelines for programme makers and take class discrimination seriously. The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights should show that they understand class discrimination is an issue that can have effects as detrimental as racial or gender bias.


But more importantly, we must stop using it ourselves. From now on – embarrassingly PC though it may seem – I shall audibly ‘tut tut’ and wince whenever I hear it used. You should too.

Fabian Society