Page last updated at 18:22 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 19:22 UK

Stop use of 'chav' - think tank

Mouth of Matt Lucas as Vicky Pollard
Chavs use the word themselves, a language expert says

People should stop using the word chav, a left-wing think tank has suggested.

The widely-used term is, according to the dictionaries, derogatory slang for a young person of low social status, often wearing designer sportswear.

The Fabian Society's Tom Hampson says the term betrays a deep level of "class hatred" and is "deeply offensive to a largely voiceless group".

But Simon Donald, the co-founder of Viz Magazine, said the word was meant to be an insult - and that was fine.

'Deeply offensive'

Mr Hampson, who is Fabian Society editorial director, says in an article due to be published in the Fabian Review that the word is "sneering and patronising", and compared it to other controversial words such as "faggot" and "pikey".

This is middle class hatred of the white working class, pure and simple
Fabian Society's Tom Hampson
"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."

And he said "it is distancing, turning the chav into the kind of feral beast that exists only in tabloid headlines".

It was an example of the middle classes using language to belittle the lower classes, he said.

"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."

'Loutish behaviour'

But Mr Donald, speaking to BBC Radio Newcastle, said it was the Fabian Society itself which was patronising.

It is part of today's vocabulary whether we like it or not
Tony Thorne
Language consultant

"Amongst everyone who I can see who uses the term it's meant as a term to put others down and there's always going to be language in society that does that.

"And I think the Fabian Society's attempts to step in and become the voice of the working classes is frankly patronising."

The Oxford English Dictionary classes chav as derogatory British slang.

It is defined as "a young person of a type characterised by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of designer-style clothes (esp. sportswear); usually with connotations of a low social status".

'Genuine social phenomenon'

Tony Thorne, a language consultant for Kings College London, said people who were called chavs actually used the word themselves.

"It is part of today's vocabulary, whether we like it or not," he said.

The word had originally been used by travellers to mean "friend", he added.

Its modern meaning became widely used in 2004, although it had been used in certain areas such as Essex and Kent for some time.

Mr Thorne said: "What chav seems to me to mean is an aggressive, self-assured, unashamedly materialistic person. I don't think 'chavs' are an innocent group of victims.

"We're dealing with a genuine social phenomenon.

"Chav is like 'skinhead' - it describes a type of behaviour and appearance that's very identifiable."

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