The term ‘chav’ has become an accepted piece of everyday slang. It is thrown about to describe the way people dress, act and where they live. Many use it harmlessly, with no discrimination intended and without thinking twice about what they are saying.

The term has even crept into the media in discussions about the fashion sense of footballers and other celebrities. However, as the word has become a piece of everyday vocabulary, the inherent prejudices within it have not gone away. It is a term that encourages the middle classes to look down on a working class that has become a scapegoat for the government and media.

The term chav is a sad reminder of the prejudice that permeates our society

Ask a friend or colleague what the term chav means and they will most likely respond with ‘council house and violent’, without much consideration for what that acronym suggests. But language is not just a tool with which to express ideas, it is a facilitator that reinforces them: in this case adds to the misguided generalisations on which it is based.

‘But what about this is classist?’ you might ask. Surely there is no such thing as a class system in Britain nowadays? Class lines have become blurred and difficult to understand, as an increasing number of people see themselves as part of the middle class. But the working class has not ceased to exist.

In fact, the working class has itself become divided. On one side, the media present us with the ‘decent’ working class, who work hard to move up the social ladder, and beneath them the ‘undeserving poor’, the lost causes of society. These people are berated as ‘benefit scroungers’, ‘shirkers’, ‘layabouts’. They are blamed for crime and unemployment. When describing these people, it seems acceptable for the media to use the term chav. But our attitude widens the divide. By using the term chav, we are separating a nation into ‘us’ and ‘them’.

The class question has far from gone away, even if it is less prevalent in the everyday rhetoric of parliamentary debate. The term chav is a sad reminder of the prejudice that permeates our society, from the school playground to the supermarket queue.

Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of Forge Press.

Words by David Dean
Image credit: TheArches (Flickr)

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