Slang is created by succeeding generations to create a personal code which the older lot were not meant to understand. I recall one phrase we thought we could use quite freely around the school – of course ‘dreck’ was not a word we had invented, as the German teacher was quick to point out. We also freely used the expression ‘wagging it’ to describe one who was AWOL. I was amazed to discover this had skipped a generation and was well-known to my grandparents, although they would have termed it ‘playing the wag’.
In modern parlance the same is true where old expressions have been revived. For example the insult ‘div’, a description of someone who is considered less than wise and an overheard expression which got me thinking about the subject in the first place. There are two schools of thought here, northerners may point to a the foolhardy miners who insisted on using the older and less reliable Davy Lamp down the mine when a proven improvement was readily available. I would question this explanation as the ‘divs’ would also be endangering the lives of their colleagues and such a double standard would surely never be allowed by the mine owners. In the south of England a much later origin has been suggested in a shortened form of Unemployment Dividend – the 1950s version of Job Seekers Allowance. This explanation is not much more credible, an insult from a shortened form of ‘dividend’ hardly seems likely as a dividend is a positive not a negative.
What does seem certain is the origin of ‘chav’. This stereotype has been in use far longer than I ever thought. Apparently it was in use, in its modern sense, by 1998 and first appeared in print five years later – it was named ‘the word of the year’ for 2004. However the word certainly existed in the 19th century when it is given as ‘chaval’, a slang term for ‘a boy’. It is held to be from the Romani word chavi meaning ‘child’. Despite what you hear it is most certainly not an acronym, creative etymology long after it was in general use suggested an origin of ‘Council House And Violent’.