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Word 4 Word banner
Wednesday 09:00-09:30 repeated 21:30-22:00
A new series that investigates language
Word 4 Word is a new programme about language - local language. It is part of the BBC's Voices season that will run through 2005.
Find out more about the BBC's Voices season
New Kids on the Block?
9.00 am, Wed 3 Aug 2005
Listen to this programme in full
Chav items
They're trobos and trevs, neds, spides and scallies, pikeys, chavs, wannabes and townies. In cities throughout the UK, from Newcastle to Newtonards, from Bradford on Avon to Bolton they know them - the Voices survey has brought to light a whole raft of names for a phenomenon that is now a fixture throughout the country.
For the Voices survey, the question was framed as: 'what do you call a young person in cheap trendy clothes and jewellery'. Each element of that is significant - young (these are not ageing swingers), trendy clothes (they make a point of dressing sharply) but their outfits are also 'cheap'. What they represent is a certain threat - a disaffected group who 'hang around outside McDonalds' according to the youngsters in Barrow in Furness; 'they stand around on street corners smoking their fags with skirts up to their arses' say the young fans of Leicester City football club.

In Newcastle, the students recognised them (here they're called 'charvers') as being people trying to cadge money and cigarettes from them outside the off-licence, while in rural Wiltshire, youngsters keep firm hold of their mobiles when the Trobos are in town (Trobos from Trowbridge, the county town). They represent 'the opposition' too - in rural Lancashire, just outside Blackburn, they're the town-dwellers who come and make trouble - they're called 'townies' here, though it's not just because they're not from the country that they carry this name.

We look at the way each area of the country has grown a word for this very particular figure of social distinctiveness; at the roots of the many words and their connection with other socially marginalised groups. 'Charver' is related to chava  the Romany term for child and this association with travellers, viewed by the prejudiced as social undesirables, is seen again in another name for the young people Pikeys. Pikey is of course a thoroughly disliked and racist term (relating to 'turnpike') for the travelling community.

The programme investigates through the contemporary phenomenon and the words that have evolved to describe it, how such vernacular terms for the socially undesirable or marginalised have changed - in the Second World War they were 'spivs' and 'drones', in the 1920s, 'young sparks'. Word4Word searches the Archive to demonstrate the historical dimension and explores the way the contemporary language is being spread and fuelled by the constant flood of traffic on MSN and via the dozens of Internet chatrooms and messageboards where these young men and women are a favourite topic of conversation and dislike.

How has immigration and new diversity affected both terminology and attitudes towards these young people? The programme shows how, through Charver Central and the many other websites that celebrate their views, these youngsters are themselves making their voice heard. The programme is also able to illustrate (from recordings in the traveller community in Kent and Northern Ireland) how this sense of being marginalised plays out in both language (including traveller cant and Romany language) and lifestyle.

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Michael RosenBestselling children's writer and poet Michael Rosen has written a specially commissioned verse about the myriad forms our current vernacular takes. Follow this link to read the poem.
Dermot MurnaghanDermot Murnaghan has spent most of his career in broadcast journalism. Before joining the BBC, he spent more than a decade fronting ITV's national news bulletins from London. He joined the BBC in the Autumn of 2002, becoming Breakfast's main presenter immediately
Read Dermot's article on Word 4 Word


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