January 7, 2021 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Watching "Des" on Sundance and distracted by how the 1980s characters, especially the police officers, constantly call each other "guv."

Please explain to me, an American, how realistic this would be, and what it would signify beyond the blunt working class stereotype I've gleaned from media beginning with My Fair Lady "Guv'nor" and onwards. In Des, I don't *think* it's only people calling their superiors "guv," I think it sounds more like someone trying to write a script from the 90s and making the characters constantly call each other "dude."
posted by nantucket to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I haven't seen the show, but I am British. "Guv" means "boss", as you say.

I don't think it's a stretch to say the place you're most likely to hear "guv" on TV is in police procedurals. It certainly wouldn't make a modern British TV watcher think of My Fair Lady or Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins or anything like that. I don't know any real police officers, so I can't say whether this is true to life, but it's certainly the done thing when writing British police dialogue, although it's perhaps a bit 90s at this point. It makes me think of a specific (very well-regarded) show.

Using it to mean "colleague" is a bit weird, I suppose. (They're definitely saying "guv", not "bruv", right?) If your impression is correct, the writers might be overusing "guv" for some kind of retro effect, or they might just be bad writers.
posted by caek at 10:39 PM on January 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yup, very common especially in police procedurals, and still used a lot now. I am in the UK and read a lot of crime ducting, where its used often.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 11:51 PM on January 7, 2021

I watched Des and I think I would have noticed if characters were using “guv” to refer to colleagues other than their superiors. It seems like that would have stood out as weird.

It hasn’t died out on TV, “guv” is still used in the (excellent btw!) modern police drama Unforgotten. No idea if actual police officers use it.
posted by tomcooke at 11:52 PM on January 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’m from the south east of England and feel like this would definitely be normal for police to call their boss, and also when approaching someone you don’t know in the street, in a pub etc - eg “Scuse me guv, could you move your car?”

Not so much among peers who know each other and one anothers’ names.
posted by penguin pie at 5:23 AM on January 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

There's a moment in a fairly recent episode of the long-in-the-tooth Midsomer Murders where the newly-promoted, new-to-the-area detective sergeant calls his superior officer Detective Inspector Barnaby "guv" and is firmly redirected to "sir." What that reveals about British class structure I'm not entirely sure, but there it is.
posted by humbug at 6:54 AM on January 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Quora often has interesting responses for questions like this and does here.

They say that it's not any boss, but inspectors and above and that it's more common in London than elsewhere in England, which would account for what humbug noticed.
posted by Jahaza at 7:38 AM on January 8, 2021

and also when approaching someone you don’t know in the street,

Just to clarify my earlier comment - in this instance, it's not just police, could be used by anyone. But outside the police, almost always between two men, for some reason I can't imagine a woman saying it to a man.

And yes, mostly London/Essex/other areas where cockney or Estuary English are common.
posted by penguin pie at 7:53 AM on January 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Adding that definitely it's not in common use (not sure about in the police) in Scotland at all - agree it's more London/Essex/SE England.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 8:41 AM on January 8, 2021

I've heard it used by police to refer to their bosses too. On episode four of BBC's The Moment of Proof a woman specifically said to her boss "Governor, I think we've got him."

Also agreed that it seems to be more common in London or Essex, I've been in England for over ten years and I've never heard it used outside of a drama until recently.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:46 AM on January 8, 2021

Unless I have lost the plot, I swear they always said this in The Bill (our 90s "cop show"). I'm trying to find a clip. In the mean time...

Theme tune here.

I don't think I've heard people call their peers Guv, though. It would be used with a superior.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 11:48 AM on January 8, 2021

So I have a clip from The Bill (I had to sit through this s*!% btw) where it looks as if one lady D.I. is calling a (peer) gentleman D.I. "guv".
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 12:16 PM on January 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

They're not peers, ihaveyourfoot. I've been watching heaps of 1980s The Bill during lockdown, and she's a Detective Constable talking to Detective Inspector Burnside, an officer two ranks more senior than her.

Elsewhere in that same episode you see Burnside talking to his superior, Detective Superintendent Jack Meadows, and Burnside in turn calls Meadows 'Guv'.

It's certainly extremely commonplace in The Bill - as someone from Essex, who grew up on 80s cop dramas, it's also completely normal and unremarkable to my ears to have it peppered throughout the script.
posted by penguin pie at 1:06 PM on January 8, 2021

Thanks for clarifying. I did skip bits because I can't sit through a full episode. I didn't know it started in the 80s either. It was what me and my friends watched as teenagers in the 90s. I agree that it won't sound odd to people from here. I'm from London, born and raised fwiw, OP.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 2:30 PM on January 8, 2021

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