You might have thought that the word chav died, gone were the days of Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard and Catherine Tate’s popular phrase “Am I bovvered?” And who can forget the mess that was called The Jeremy Kyle Show? Now? There seems to be a resurgence of the classist word. Guess where? TikTok—obviously.
It’s not merely a resurgence of the word but an explosion of it—filled with videos of users replicating and mocking the ‘chav’ look in makeup and fashion—#chav currently has over 1.4 billion views on the app. Another interesting aspect to note is that it’s almost always making fun of ‘chav’ girls and women, this in part due to TikTok’s current association of ‘chavness’ with thick, block-like eyebrows, a blotchy tan, a messy bun, tracksuits and large hoop earrings. This is often paired alongside a stylised and magnified rendition of Estuary English—an accent that is typically affiliated with the UK working class. But, the history of this word and its effects on the working class goes further than just skin-deep.
Much like the caricature stereotypes of teenage Vicky Pollard and Tate’s Lauren Cooper, the ‘chav’ seen on TikTok is quite often used in school setting skits—like the one above. It makes a habit out of belittling and mocking teenage girls who are typically from working class backgrounds. Grown adults dressing up and making fun of teenage girls—you’re probably not even that funny. Go do some stand-up or something, stop being lazy. This 20-year-old, retired, unfunny, comedic trend seems to have unfortunately clawed itself back into the mainstream with everything else Y2K—guys, there’s some stuff from the 00s that we should just leave there. This being one of them. Trust me, I was there and I definitely don’t want to go back.
Beyond these typical skits, a new form of content has evolved—the ‘chav transformation.’ Rebecca Lockwood wrote for The Tab on this terrible skit, “The skits always involve harmful jokes about parental neglect, alcoholism and drug abuse just to really make sure that anyone who resembles the character they’re playing feels really good about themselves and the world they live in….Haha! I’m a chav! How stupid and funny am I!”
The actual word itself has people divided on its origins. Some argue it could have possibly arose from the Romani word ‘chavi’ meaning ‘child’. Others say it originated from “Chatham average”, a defamatory term used to refer to the Kent town residents. It wasn’t until 2004, when Oxford English Dictionary celebrated ‘chav’ as its first Word of the Year, that it exploded in mainstream usage. Given the specific faction of people the word essentially mocked, it has since been considered as the abbreviation for “council housed and violent.” This is perhaps its most common association in spite of it not having anything to do with the word’s actual origin.
The term is now widespread in its use to refer to this idea of the working-class delinquency—one with little education, rowdy behaviour, drug use and fake Pradas.
Renowned journalist Owen Jones wrote in his 2011 book, Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, that the word should be considered a slur. This slur, he points out, has been tactically used by British politicians to perpetuate social and class inequalities. Rather than changing the infrastructures in place that benefit the wealthy and detriment the working-class, Tory MPs have historically blamed poverty on the individual. You know that classic ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ bullshit.
Who can forget Tony Blair’s statement—towards the end of his time as Prime Minister (thank god that’s over)—at a New Labour think-tank “we’re all middle class.” Jason Okundaye incitefully pointed out in his article for the Tribune that, “Blairism’s regular attacks on ‘scroungers’, ‘chavs’, single mothers, asylum seekers, and hooded youths provided a sheen of respectability to TV executives who made a career out of mocking Britain’s most marginalised, allowing it to become a pursuit of popular culture.”
In a 2020 edition of his book with a new preface, Jones pointed out his accurate prediction that people would inevitably deny the mocking and stereotyping of working-class people—’it’s just a joke right?’ they’d say—has come to fruition. “The danger is of a savvy new populist right-emerging…it could denounce the demonisation of the working class and the trashing of its identity.” Rather than focusing on the real issues of class inequality, “Immigrants could be blamed for economic woes, multiculturalism could be blasted for undermining ‘white’ working-class identity,” Jones continued.