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Last updated at 17:13 BST, Thursday, 07 October 2010



John Ayto explains the origin, meaning and use of the word 'chugger'.

pile of sterling coins


Once upon a time in Britain, when people wanted you to give money to charity in the street, they just stood modestly in shop doorways, perhaps looking at passers-by with a meaningful glance, but doing nothing more threatening than rattling their collecting boxes.

Then, in the late 20th century, things changed. Earnest young men and women started coming up to you, clipboard in hand, as you were walking along, and giving you a lengthy verbal presentation on the cause they wanted you to support. They rounded this off by asking you to sign up for an ongoing series of donations to their charity.

How did we feel about this? Well, to judge from the word we in Britain invented for such people, we weren't too impressed. We call them chuggers, and accuse them of trying to chug us. Those are blended words, made up of the ch- of 'charity' and the –ug- of 'mug' and 'mugger'.

Now, a mugger is someone who attacks and robs you in a public place, so chugger is really quite a hostile word for a person who, after all, is just trying to do a bit of good in the world.

But since it first appeared in 2002, it seems to have established a place for itself in the language. Are we Brits too mean, or just generally grumpy? Either way, we don't like being chugged.

About John Ayto

John Ayto

John Ayto is a lexicographer and a writer on words and language. He began his dictionary career as one of the editors of the first edition of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, and over the past twenty years he has produced a range of his own books on the history and use of words, including the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins, the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang and Twentieth-Century Words, a survey of the new words that came into the English language during the twentieth century. He edited the 17th edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and he has broadcast extensively on lexical matters.