Something “bog-standard” is as ordinary as it could possibly get — likely as not, the model or type you’ll get if you don’t ask for anything particular.

“Where did you get that phone?”

“I can’t remember, it’s just a bog-standard Orange.”

The speaker is suggesting that if you go to a shop run by the Orange mobile phone company and ask for a phone, this is the model you will get.

“What’s your house like?”

“It’s a bog-standard house — two up, two down, noisy neighbors.”

The origin of the phrase is unclear. The most popular theory is that it is a corruption of “box-standard”: a product (computer, car, etc.) in the standard form, straight from the box.

This derivation may be correct, although “bog-standard” is recorded as early as 1968, whereas the earliest known citation for “box-standard” is not until 1983.

The association with “bog,” a marsh, has lent the word a faintly derogatory flavor that “box-standard” never had — especially since “bog” is also a widespread slang term for a toilet.

In the run-up to the 2001 general election, Alastair Campbell, the prime minister’s belligerent and unpopular spokesman, referred to “bog-standard comprehensives” when speaking about comprehensive schools (the most common form of state school for children 11 and older).

The implication that those are places where education happens with no special care or dedication was unmistakable and caused considerable hostility from the teaching profession.

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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