“Bog standard”

Keith Huss (@keithhuss) writes on Twitter: “Having British wife and friends, I’m familiar with the phrase “bog standard”. Recently read it twice on US tech blogger sites.”

New one on me!

The Oxford English Dictionary describes “bog standard” as: “slang (depreciative, chiefly Brit.). Ordinary, basic, standard without extra features or modification; unexceptional or uninspired.”

The citations (the earliest one is from 1962) all refer to cars or computers, with the exception of this 1995 quote from Empire magazine: “A bog-standard biography with a cheap ‘Psycho’ sales gimmick, you can’t help thinking [Anthony] Perkins deserved better.”

An Urban Dictionary definition from 2006 goes:

“Completely, utterly, absolutely ordinary in every way. British slang. ‘Dave drives a totally bog standard Escort. Not even aircon. Dave is a cheap bastard.'”

The etymology is uncertain but interesting. The OED suggests that it may have derived from “box-standard,” an obsolete noun denoting “a frame or standard hollow tubing forming the main framework of a machine, engine, etc.” “Box-standard” shows up as an adjective meaning the same thing as “bog-standard” in 1983. According to Google Ngram Viewer, the two phrases were roughly equally popular until the late 1990s, when “bog” took off and crushed the opposition.

Is “bog-standard” a NOOB? It’s out there, a little. Suzy Menkes wrote in the New York Times in 2012 that a fashion show has a “focus on outerwear, including cropped jackets rather than the bog-standard trench.” But most of the quotes I find are, as Keith Huss suggests, on tech sites, such as this from Ziff-Davis’s Extreme Tech: “The company’s plans for an ARM-based server business may be in their infancy, but AMD has built at least one bog-standard ARM core.”

Whatever that means.

19 thoughts on ““Bog standard”

  1. I worked in the tech sector for four decades, but never heard the term before this. Since the etymology given is speculative. let me propose my own. Referring to the OED definition, I’d guess that it refers to something that’s arisen from the bog, the first release of a product perhaps, with the lowest-level capability imaginable, i.e., with just enough functionality to claim success, but nothing beyond any of its competition.

    It also reminds me of the tech term “sandbox,” were a programmer “plays around with” the code, revising and testing it until it’s ready to integrate with the code from other programmers on the project. Bog-standard might also refer to something that’s just emerged from the sandbox. That “AMD has built at least one bog-standard ARM core” suggests to me that they perhaps had created a working model that could serve as a production prototype.

    Suzy Menkes could, of course, could speak for herself, but perhaps her “bog-standard trench[coat]” was an oblique reference to London Fog, one of the most popular brands. (Bog/Fog, get it?)

  2. To offer my own bit of popular ‘etymology’, perhaps ‘bog-standard’ referred to the old “bog-roll” toilet paper, before soft tissue, especially the kind with “property of HM Government” on every sheet.

      1. I think Tim has a point. ‘Bog standard’ is close in meaning to ‘garden variety’, when used as an adjective, which is popular in the US.
        All the boys at my British comprehensive school called the toilets ‘the bogs’ or ‘the bog house’. It was not marshy underfoot but tiled so I had no idea why this was but quickly joined in. (I don’t remember what the girls said but I was eight and busy ignoring them.)
        This is fascinating and amusing:

  3. Back in the 1980s I was working in a hotel in the UK East Midlands and was invited to join the Restaurant staff’s late night card game. We got into an argument about the rules ( do you need Jacks to open) and finished up phoning the Poker Lounge at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas to get a ruling. When I asked “In a bog-standard game of poker do you need Jacks or better to open the betting?” the guy on the other end of the phone had no trouble understanding what I meant.

    The hotel chain went bust but I don’t think that the late night international calls were directly responsible,

  4. I am Australian and have heard this term since the 1970s. In the 1970s it referred to cars as “bog-standard”, as in not hotted up or modified. However it could apply to anything that was basic, or unmodified. I have never heard the term “box-standard”

  5. I have been in architecture since the 1970s, and that term was around then. I was told it came from early 20th century technical specifications. These are always produced for building (and engineering) works, and lay down the quality standards required.
    Britain and Germany were the first industrialised countries, and the first to have national standards for materials and products. Both produced good quality standards, which were fairly interchangeable, so specifications often called for products to be to ‘British or German standard’. This eventually got abbrieviated to BoG standard in specifications. As standards tend to define accepted good practice, they do not cover innovative products, so bog standard came to mean run of the mill.
    I cannot check this out, as standards diverged, probably during WW2, and when I started in architecture, the term was no longer used in specifications, only colloquially.
    It does worry me that etymologists seem only to look at books, newspapers and magazines for word origins, and not the unknown mountains of technical documentation out there that give rise to many terms that later enter mainstream speech.

    1. I also have read that this was was a contracted of British or German standard. I remember my dad (an electronics engineer) and my physics teacher (a grumpy old sod) using it in conjunction with mechanical part such as washers and screws. Dad was in the army in the latre 40s-early 50s and I would be prepared to bet that’s where he picked the phrase up. I heard it in the early 70s, but I would have been unlikely to had heard it before due to my extreme youth at that point!

      I very much agree with Michelle’s concern about etymology. On a tangent, it amuses me that the word ‘scram’ is written up in many dictionaries as ‘ety unknown’ when it so obviously comes from the Italian ‘scorriamo’, and nobody connects ‘moll’ with ‘moglie’. I think some etymologists may be too wedded to Greek, Latin, Old French and Old German.

  6. Here’s my thruppence worth and which I have always believed to be the origin (at least in my mind) of bog standard! Maybe some of you will remember toilets which carried the trademark “Ideal” under which the word ‘standard’ was engraved in blue or black.? Therefore, en toute simplicité, Bog Standard, as in commonplace, standard issue, or whatever. I used to think this was deemed to be vulgar until I heard it used in the BBC programme ‘Today in Parliament ‘ where it seems to have grown in usage since.

  7. Nick L Tipper wrote: ” ‘Bog standard’ is close in meaning to ‘garden variety’, when used as an adjective, which is popular in the US.”

    The equivalent phrase in the UK is “common-or-garden” before a noun.

  8. My father in law (very English) has been using bog standard to identify ordinary tea ever since my wife was a little girl (1970s.) if you ask him what kind of tea he wants he always says “bog standard, luv” – usually meaning PG Tips or Barry’s or the like.

    1. In the 20th Century the Meccano toy construction sets had two starter packs: the Box Standard and the Box Deluxe. Over time these have given rise to the expressions bog standard and dog’s bollocks.

  9. Not the oldest source, but a great leak of UK English into US; J. K. Rowling uses it in 2003 “we thought it was a bog standard chicken until it started breathing fire.”

  10. If from the car industry in the 1960s, maybe means “Business or Government” standard? If the origin was engineers, acronyms were insider speak and all the rage in the sixties

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