A chav is a contemptuous term for a young person, normally a teenager or someone a little older, who affects a particular style.

He — sometimes she — wears sports clothes (track suits and football shirts) because it’s in fashion rather than out of any desire to play sports, along with a “hoodie” or hooded top.

If he can afford it, he will wear designer labels and he may have a conspicuous cheap gold earring or chain. He is working class and probably a layabout or lout.

You rarely see a single chav; they cluster in twos and threes. They hang around on street corners with attitude, glowering, arguing or just looking nonchalant.

Chav is from the Romany (Gypsy) “chavo” meaning a boy, and the derogatory sense probably has a racist origin.

Nowadays, however, the only prejudice it expresses is a class one. Indeed the fact that “chav” is less than 10 years old in common use is an indication that the British class system is alive and well.

Chavs are widely considered to be a cause of the problems of modern society, the Right blaming their supposed behavior, the Left their exclusion. In a famous incident, a large shopping center in Kent went as far as to ban anyone wearing a hoodie.

There are many synonyms for “chav,” some regional: townie, schemey, Kev (from the now working-class name “Kevin”), scally, and pikey, to name but a handful. The last one, from “turnpike,” was also originally an offensive word for Gypsies and travellers.

Mark Wainwright is a freelance writer living in Cambridge. Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at:

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