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Today, while reading an interview of Camilla Pang in The Guardian of 28 Nov 2020, I found this in the article:

Deviations from that – whether through being a woman, or being neurodivergent or because of your race – hit a subconscious bias where some people think: “OK, how reliable is this person?”, and wait for something to go wrong because they’re not the bog-standard fit. [emphasis added]

While I have for a long time been aware of the term 'bog-standard' and what I surmised from context was its meaning, "down-to-earth, basic standard", I became curious about the origin — and also about what I felt was a slightly off-kilter use by Pang, but that's neither here nor there. I "had recourse to" OED (to paraphrase Boswell about philosophy), and soon learned that the term was considered (a) recent and (b) of "uncertain origin". OED also confirmed my surmise about the meaning, although not my association of the term with 'down-to-earth'. The first attestation given was from an ad in the April, 1962 issue of Motor Sport:

Bog standard Sprite, 1959, two owners.

The OED story about the term was similar to the story at The Phrase Finder, a source of "unequal reliability", and other sources summoned by invoking internet search engine demons (DuckDuckGo) repeated much the same story. (None of the sources, by the way, corroborated my association of the term with 'down-to-earth'.)

The existing stories are summed up in the OED entry, which is new as of the 3rd Edition, March 2002:

Etymology: Origin uncertain; perhaps an alteration of box standard n. (although this is first attested later [1983]), after bog n.4 [a "toilet, a lavatory; the room or outhouse containing this"]. Differing theories of the origin of bog-standard have been proposed, but none proven. An immediate association with bog n.1 seems unlikely on semantic grounds. The most commonly held view is that the transition from box to bog resulted from a mishearing or misunderstanding of box standard n.

Others have suggested a derivation < bog-wheel, former Cambridge slang for a bicycle, though ultimately also related to bog n.4....

Can anybody (who reads this and is willing, etc. etc. etc.) add anything substantial to the story of the 'bog-standard'?

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5 Answers 5

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Bog-standard being related to toilets/lavatories at some point is probably because of the term bog-house. In your quote from OED, it says that the use of box-standard in the meaning of "ordinary" first appeared in 1983, thus making this theory not as possible.

I have also found that 1983 quote, just for fun. This quote was said by the inventor Sir Cline Sinclair in an interview with magazine Computerworld, February 1983:

Luckily, we cannot foresee the day when a computer becomes just a standard box. There will be box-standard machines along the road, but we do not simply have to make those.

Some have also speculated that BOG is an acronym for British or German. This is plausible as during the world wars, the British and German technology was so good, that everyone had to use them, which made British or German the "ordinary". Thus, the term BoG standard was coined. Some also think that BoG is for the British or German engineering during the Victorian era. I can't find any real documents before 1970 using these terms, so this theory may be a little sketchy.

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+100

I have an answer, but can't be sure of its truthfulness though.

'bog-standard' is 'beyond-the-pale' in the sense that its outside the domain of civilised / advanced 'England', because geographically speaking, beyond the pale there were lots of bogs! In this sense bog-standard is simple or inferior, but also sufficient and rugged.

Its possible that the usage was in slang/non-standard English for a long time before being attested to.

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  • Comments deleted. It may, however, be worthwhile to cite "beyond the pale". (I reckon that pale is simply a fence, the current paling; and used figuratively it simply separates "Us" from "Them".)
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 29, 2020 at 16:20
  • I am attracted to the answer. In many slang dictionaries, "bog standard" is followed by "bog trotter" (derogatory slang for an Irish person.) The difficulty comes with the date, 1962: As reference to the simple and inferior nature of things that came from the bog has been around for over 400 years, it is a little late in arriving.
    – Greybeard
    Mar 17, 2021 at 22:45
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I have an answer that I was told in the mid 1970's when I started work and acronyms were starting to be popular. BOG standard meant British or German standard. Which at the time was as good a standard as you could get. At the time Britain was still a strong engineering/ manufacturing base. Japan was up and coming, while China and Hong Kong were the cheap and simple. How times have changed. Like lots of things like gay, the word has become corrupted to have a totally different meaning.

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  • 1
    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Nov 19, 2022 at 21:58
  • This seems very implausible. Is there any evidence that the phrase "British or German standard" was used without shortening first?
    – Stuart F
    Apr 10 at 10:30
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I was familiar with the term 'bog standard' in the early 1970s (U.K.) in the context of electronics and motorcycles so the 1983 date is too late. My father, a veteran of world war 2, also used the phrase readily at this time, so the phrase using 'bog' was well established by this time. beyond that I cannot assist.

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Apr 9 at 18:54
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I have not been able to confirm this, but I heard the origin of the phrase when I was looking for the origin of a rude phrase.

In the 1930s, Meccano had two versions of its toys: box-standard and box-deluxe.

It doesn't take any imagination to see how box-standard could get changed to bog-standard, to mean run-of-the-mill.

Similarly, box-deluxe became bog-deluxe which was instantly transformed by the Cockney laws of spoonerisms to Dog-beluxe. There was one more stage in that phrase's journey, producing a phrase meaning "best quality", but I won't mention it here.

https://www.grammar-monster.com/sayings_proverbs/bog_standard.htm

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    The OED records the first use of "box-standard" in 1983; 21 years after "bog standard."
    – Greybeard
    Apr 9 at 21:40
  • Grammar Monster doesn't seem to have any evidence of the 1930s Meccano products, and without that it's hard to believe this is true. Meccano is well-documented and there are a lot of collectors, so it's hard to believe that every "box-standard" kit would disappear without trace.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 10 at 10:32

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