Monday, March 29, 2010


I said I was going to say a few words about the less-than-savory people I encountered on the train ride back from Cardiff a few weeks ago.

It amused me very much in September during the Swansea Regenerations when I learned that Paul Castle (who edits Shooty Dog Thing, which was the inspiration for TTZ, of course) revealed that his first source for the word “chav” was the Doctor Who episode “New Earth.” ME TOO! The reason this amused me is because Paul is English! The word “chav” has been around for a few years now, and according to one definition in, the word derives from Chatham in Kent. I don’t know if I believe that, as Urban Dictionary’s definitions of “chav” are more akin to what I personally held to be a “yob.” “Yobs,” I venture, are what I encountered on the night train back from Cardiff.

Let’s back up, though. In the context of “New Earth,” when the snooty-nosed Lady Cassandra jumps into the body of Rose Tyler, she despairs because she’s become a chav. I remember in spring 2006 when the US was getting our year-late Christopher Eccleston episodes. I was trying not to be too spoilered by the concurrent series 2 in Britain with David Tennant and Billie Piper, but I did find myself on message boards that had members (Americans, primarily) asking, “What is a chav? What is Cassandra talking about?” I found out this was in context to “New Earth,” but it remained mostly a mystery until I finally saw the episode in question in December 2006.

We discussed definitions, Paul and his friends and I, and we decided that the closest equivalent to “chav” is “trailer trash.” Cassandra meant, presumably, that Rose was trashy, uncultured, lower class, a bit of a loafer, low income, homogenous, common, unintelligent, unambitious. At least, these are words I associate with my definition of chav. Even at the time the question was bandied about those message boards in spring 2006, there was some pondering as to whether the term actually applied to Rose.

Rose lives in council flats. Until she joined up with the Doctor, she worked in retail—a lowly “shop girl.” Her accent and culture is, to an extent, “common” (here we run into the thorny territory of British classism which is alive and well, and which I might discuss at some point, but not now). There are certain aspects to the way Rose dresses (no, really!) that would seem to strengthen this chav thesis—her big hoop earrings, her mawkish eye makeup, her totally artificial bleach-blonde hair. J and I once discussed whether Steven Moffat’s suggestion that Rose once (off-screen, of course!) drank cheap cider from plastic bottles on the swing set, a very chav thing to do. I would suggest that her mother Jackie is more chav-tastic than Rose is, but interestingly, the definitions on Urban Dictionary seem to put the garden variety chav as male.

My very Welsh friend Julie complains constantly about chavs and their particular geographical distribution across Swansea and surrounding areas. As far as I can make out, these chavs call each other “mush.” Otherwise they exist purely to antagonize her.

The word “yob” occurs in tandem in tabloids with “happy slappy” and “ASBO.” That was the first place I heard it, though according (again, and perhaps dubiously) to Urban Dictionary, the word has existed since the 18th century. To me, it has always suggested a violent, unruly teenager bent on wreaking havoc in a social setting just for the hell of it. This is where the “happy slappy” people come in, who (this is documented) go around attacking unsuspecting people for no reason. This presumably gets them an Anti Social Behaviour Order—a mark of pride among their clan.

The people on the train weren’t quite “yobs” and I don’t know if they were quite “chavs” either—they were certainly drunk and acting totally stupid in a way that could have easily and quickly escalated into harassment or senseless violence. But we’ll get to the UK drinking culture later.

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