Aussie Word of the Moment: 'Bogan'

Bogan (pronounced BOE-gn, to rhyme with 'slogan') is a derogatory and slang term in Australia and New Zealand for a white working-class person, particularly a young male. Female adherents of the stereotype do exist, albeit with somewhat different, gender-specific characteristics.

Any discussion of the meaning of the term is likely to be controversial. Australians tend to have an image of their country as culturally egalitarian; by contrast, Britain and the United States are often stereotyped in Australia as obsessed with cultural and economic class respectively. The presence of an insulting stereotype for poor people is obviously in conflict with this self-image.
Like the British term chav and the American term white trash, the term is supposedly based on behaviour rather than class alone. It may be contrasted to the term 'povvo', which assumes that poverty as such is worthy of insult.

A person who uses the insult may draw a distinction between bogans, and more 'respectable' working class people.

However, only people who are perceived to be working class are called bogans. A person from a comfortable background who is violent, anti-social and unintelligent may well be derided and insulted, but not by being called a bogan. They may be told they are acting like a bogan, but not that they actually are one.

Further, the stereotype assumes a correlation between subcultural practices of particular working-class people (eg style of dress, accent, and musical tastes), and anti-social behaviour. It should thus be considered a slur.

The term, and the attendant stereotype, are far more acceptable in Australian culture than equivalent slurs. A person who used the term in the media, for example, would be unlikely to face similar consequences to if they had used a term such as nigger or kike. The popular Australian TV comedy Kath and Kim derived much of its humour from this stereotype. A TV comedy based on equivalent stereotypes of Aboriginal people, for example, would have been highly unlikely to be aired.


The use of the word "bogan" as an insult originated in Melbourne, to describe people of the working class. Then the character Kylie Mole on the famed Australian television program The Comedy Company popularised the term as an insult for any friend she didn't like, and by 1991, the word was in the national dictionary project.

There are actually places in Western New South Wales that have "Bogan" in their name, including Bogan Shire, the Bogan River and the rural village of Bogan Gate. Despite the fact that their remote location fits some of the aspects of the stereotype, these places are not regarded as the source of the term. It is more likely that the sound of the word fits the humourous aspects of the stereotype rather than the people of this area being the epitome of bogans.

Elements of the Stereotype

The stereotype of a bogan is essentially the same as the British stereotype of a chav or the American white trash, with some specific Australian cultural features.

  • The stereotype may be summarised as follows:
  • white poor, particularly on the dole and/or living in public housing.
  • driving an old, Australian car such as a Commodore, particulary the highly prized artefact the VK or VL model.- or Falcon, and highly interested in cars. The term 'hoon' is similar to bogan, but particularly applies to young men who are interested in cars and drive in an anti-social manner.
  • interested in sport, particularly Australian Rules or Rugby League football, depending on which code is dominant in their area.
  • violent, anti-social, possibly criminal.
  • unintelligent, uneducated, anti-intellectual - more specifically, racist and homophobic.
  • culturally blue-collar: having the 'broad' Australian accent associated with poorer and rural white people.
  • Uses traditionally working class dialect terms. For example, a person may be derided for using 'youse' (plural form of 'you'), the distinctive pronunciation of 'nothing', 'something', and 'anything' ending with a hard 'k' sound, and pronouncing the name of the letter 'h' as 'haitch'. An excellent example of this being satirised is by the Melbourne-based comedian, Greg Fleet:"Is there sumpfink wrong wiff you mate?"
  • sexually immoral. This stereotype is particularly applied to women and girls, and is particularly associated with being a single mother.
  • a heavy drinker of pre-mixed bourbon and cola cans such as Woodstock & Cougar. A typical drink at a public bar would be a bourbon and coke, or bundy and coke ("bogan juice").
  • pretentious, vain, materialistic, ignorant, tasteless. The basic idea of this aspect of the stereotype is that the bogan attempts to imitate desirable characteristics of 'normal', wealthier people and fails due to their own ignorance. For example: giving their children supposedly 'classy' but actually ridiculous non-standard names such as Dakota or Mercedes; wearing designer labels yet still appearing ludicrous; having a comically fake tan in an effort to resemble a member of the jet-set.

There is a detailed stereotype of what bogans wear, which includes Moccasin-style slippers, ugg boots, tight black jeans, singlets, flannelette shirts (or black jerseys and jeans in Waitakere/West Auckland) and prominent tattoos, short, tight 'footy shorts', blue singlets and thongs/jandals (the footwear Americans call 'flip-flops', not the underwear) and sunnies. This can also include tracksuit pants in the case of younger male bogans, primarily due to their cheap price.

There is a similarly detailed stereotype related to music, based around metal and Australian 'pub rock' - for example Cold Chisel, particularly their song Khe Sanh, and AC/DC. The drunk young man who loudly demands that a band 'play some Barnesy', or 'play Khe Sanh', regardless of the band's style, is a recognisable element of the stereotype.

The clothing and music elements of the stereotype were genuinely associated with a particular stratum of working class people at one time. However, the stereotype has lingered far longer than the reality which inspired it, as young working class people tend more towards an interest in hip-hop influenced fashion and music, and as metal and hard rock become associated with more the affluent 'alternative' subculture.
The bogan stereotype has no implication of religious fundamentalism, unlike the American equivalent white trash.


The stereotype of a bogan is closely associated with location as the perception is that bogans live in the outer suburbs of metropolitan areas or in rural areas.
The term 'westie', referring to the generally poorer western suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, and to West Auckland in New Zealand, is an equivalent term to bogan. This term was even used in Canberra, where there is no distinction between poorer western and more affluent eastern suburbs.

Applied to Celebrities

Some celebrities have been associated with the stereotype: essentially white males who are seen as working-class, particularly if they are accused of anti-social behaviour.
Examples include

Foreign celebrities with a similar public image are often associated with the equivalent stereotypes in their countries - for example

1 Comment(s):

NH said...

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