Saturday, May 07, 2005

Away with words

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but really: is there anything better than a good word? The feeling you get when you find a brand new unheard of word?
Identified. Pinpointed. Applied. Named.
Hooray! Score! Yippee! Yahtzee!
For those of us not regularly involved in competitive team sports it’s that one chance we might get to perform the one armed fist pump – the victory over the goal line dance; if only there were folks around, we think, to carry us out of a stadium on their shoulders. But word usage is a lonely business, and the only sporting chances offered are to the under 15’s in that most exciting of competitions – the Spelling Bee.
But the Spelling Bee, for all its nail-biting, hushed-voiced glamourous glory is at heart an exercise in a different type of exactitude. Spelling is to great-word usage as math is to science: a component, a specialty, absolutely a necessity – but not the whole ball of wordy wax.
The latest word to come across my desk - and this is a desk backed up by a not inconsiderable dictionary and thesaurus collection, as well as membership in fully two separate word-a-day email programs ( ‘Word of the Day’ and Wordsmith’s ‘A.Word.A.Day’ – both highly recommended) not to mention a fascination with slang and idiom – is ‘Chav’.
Chav. It’s new – it’s unusual. It’s special…and I want to know more. We’re so samey-same here in North America; nothing new, nothing special – just a side by side nation of drones, finding our excitement and identity in studying the lives of that 21st century pantheon of Gods – the Celebrity.
Would that we had our own new homemade culture to observe – to love or to hate, to identify with, to attack or defend – a group so identifiable as to have created a new name and set of characteristics and qualities so unique as to make them recognizable anywhere.
Like the British and their ‘Chavs’.
Chav. The new word in UK common parlance (particularly in the south of England it is understood) identified as “a pejorative description created to describe groups identified as “non-educated delinquents” and “the burgeoning peasant underclass”. The subjects of these derogatory descriptions are said to be set apart by ignorance, fecklessness and questionable taste.
Not to mention the likely inability to understand words such as ‘pejorative’, ‘burgeoning’ and ‘fecklessness’.
I find the word itself snotty and snobby and mean-spirited in the extreme. From its high-falutin’ description, to its preoccupation with class, ‘Chav’ is that uniquest of uniquities: a word that doesn’t just describe, but assumes, extrapolates and expands. What’s the matter, I wonder, with belonging to a particular, identifiable, colourful (and no doubt unfairly downtrodden) group?
And as I research further into this fascinating designation of persons, I’m beginning to enjoy their saucy camaraderie, their style, their choices – even their secret language.
You’ve got to (absolutely must) love ‘em. For, not only have they named the ‘Chav’, they’ve already devised a number of synonyms: Neds, Townies, Kevs, Charbers, Steeks, Spides, Bazzas, Yarcos, Rat Boys, Hood Rats, Skangers, Scutters, Janners, Stigs, Scallies and Kappa Slappers. Like an Inuit describing snow, an inordinate amount of time and effort, not to mention love and understanding, has been invested in painting a picture.
To be counted amongst their number would for me, one who has spent a life drifting solo, a fresh chance to belong.
They even have their own online ‘Agony Aunt’ Auntie Shanice, who elicits queries thusly:
“Are your feral children out of control? Are you banging your wife’s sister? Do you only get turned on when you wear a Burberry baseball cap? If a tree falls in the wood and there is no one to hear it does it really make a sound? Whatever your sexual, moral, family or philosophical problem is, Aunti Shanice can here to help you aaaght!”
Naughty Auntie Shanice, who answers questions like so:
PROBLEM: So I’ve got this chavette preggers innit and the twat wants to hit me up for the child support money. I ain’t got no job and no house and I live wif me mums and I want to get out of the country, how can I run.
PS I think your me real auntie.
ANSWER: I ain’t helpin’ ya! You might ‘ave knocked up one of me mates and we girls always stick togever... (uvver than that one time when Shaz squeezed Kev’s arse cheek and I ‘ad to break ‘er nose) I don’t fink I am yer real Auntie..and even if I am you aint getting no birfday presents off me.
Auntie Shanice
PROBLEM: My favorite film has always been Scum but for some reason I can't stop wanting to watch The Sound Of Music. Help me please!
ANSWER: The only reason anyone would ever watch The Sound of bleedin’ Music is cos they are too pissed to find the remote to turn it over on Christmas day… I ‘ave been in this unfortunate position and so I speak with authority and it’s a crap film, no cars, no fit blokes and Not one killin. But I do like the song where the daughter tries to convince ‘er bloke she’s ‘legal’.
Auntie Shanice
As a former advice columnist myself, I can only bow to the insider knowledge so cheerfully and charmingly displayed by Auntie Shanice; to her confident, no-nonsense mastery of her target audience and to her experienced professional answers to questions that I must admit, left me reeling in ignorant limbo.
I am intrigued… I am enrapt… I am drawn to the Chavs. To their outsider status and devil-may-care attitude. I want to know more.
So I search and I google and I find – I find the description I’ve been looking for and all at once I am in the blackest of black despair.
Chavs, I discover, can most easily be recognized by the following:
“To illustrate the most defining of their characteristics – bad taste – critics point to their style of dress: a love of flashy gold jewellery (hooped earrings, thick neck chains, sovereign rings and heavy bangles, which all may be lumped together under the term bling-bling); the wearing of white trainers (in what is called “prison white”, so clean that they look new); clothes in fashionable brands with very prominent logos; and baseball caps, frequently in Burberry check, a favourite style. The women, the Daily Mail wrote recently in a characteristic burst of maidenly distaste, “pull their shoddily dyed hair back in that ultra-tight bun known as a ‘council-house facelift’, wear skirts too short for their mottled blue thighs, and expose too much of their distressingly flabby midriffs”.
Chavs, I discover are nothing new and nothing special: they are none other than Britney Spears and new (most recent) hubby Kevin Federline – the ultimate 21st century celebrities; perhaps even the models and poster children for chavs and chavettes living (shoddily) the length and breadth of the British Isles. I feel cheated.
I am throwing away anything sporting a label… dressing solely in non-descript tasteful shifts and trouser suits. Letting down my hems, raising my necklines, chopping off my hair and letting my face fall into all its comfortable middle class layers and folds. I am dirtying up my sneakers.
And - if they'll have me - I'm thinking of becoming Inuit.

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