I'm searching for an American English phrase that is the most readily equivalent to the British expression bog standard (which means, as I understand, plain, ordinary or unremarkable).

I'm tempted to use run of the mill or out of the box but these don't really have quite the same flavor as bog standard.

No need for an etymology lesson, here. But I would appreciate any synonymous phrasings, especially for those with a bit more humorous flair.


For to provide context as to assist I present the usage:

My bog standard stepmother, Rose, in her inaugural summer as my de facto parent made it known with little uncertainty that the absolute last thing she wanted while school was out of session was for me to be within 50 miles of her teenage daughter.

In this case I'm intending bog standard to mean something of standard issue; I'm trying to say that my stepmother is a stereotypical archetype. I like bog standard but I am afraid that a wider American audience will be unfamiliar with the phrase.

Edit #2:

For to clarify in a manner that furthers understanding:

There are a lot of phrases on both sides of the Atlantic that mean plain, boring, unexciting, standard or average. But bog standard has a special flavor all it's own. It has this special, subtle knock to it.

To sort-of clarify the matter so you know what I want, I want the reader in just one or two (or three) words get the feeling that she is a straight from The Brothers Grimm standard issue stepmother. She might as well have come stock from the Acme Stepmother Factory in a wooden crate marked "Contents: One Stepmother. Fragile. This Side Up.". I want it to be like I'm standing in line being handed the contents of my life: One childhood, pleasant, check; One adolescence, awkward, check; One stepmother, standard issue, check. I want one small phrase that captures this whole concept, packs it in a nice little box, puts a nice little bow on it and then hands it to the reader.

That's not too much to ask, is it?

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    What’s wrong with “bog standard”? I certainly use it, and I’m American. – tchrist Apr 28 '12 at 21:43
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    @tchrist: nothing's wrong with using it in America as an American except no one would recognize it and they'd look at you funny. – Mitch Apr 28 '12 at 22:09
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    "Bog standard stepmother" sounds a bit strange to me. – Hugo Apr 28 '12 at 22:45
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    I'm American. I (and the friends I just asked) have never heard of "Bog Standard," so I don't think you're being overly-cautious... – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Apr 29 '12 at 1:33
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    What Hugo said. Speaking as a Brit, I probably use and/or hear "bog standard" on a weekly basis, but we don't normally use it to describe people. The sense is of basic, not having any optional extras or enhancements, rather than OP's supposed "stereotypical archetype*. – FumbleFingers Apr 29 '12 at 2:37

Other common phrases/expressions that could be close:

  • cookie cutter
  • standard issue
  • factory standard
  • off-the-shelf
  • run of the mill
  • quintessential (she is the quintessential step-mother)
  • classic (she's your classic step-mother type)
  • stereotypical

Or you can branch out from synonyms to other ideas that convey more or less the same sentiment. Something like "right out of Grimms Brothers," depending on what you're ultimately going for.

Best of luck!

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    Yes, +1 for quintessential. It works well in the OP's sentence. – JLG Apr 29 '12 at 15:32
  • None of those is negative, though. – tchrist Apr 29 '12 at 21:39
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    The OP didn't say he wanted negativity in the term itself, only that it mean something like 'stereotypical archetype.' The humorous, negative implication is carried by the term 'stepmother' when paired with one of the above words. Many of these other answers seem to be emphasizing plainness or negativity rather than the idea of someone being an archetypal example of something. – Charles W Apr 29 '12 at 21:43
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    I like cookie cutter. I think it has just the same slightly negative tinge as bog standard. – Nate Eldredge Apr 30 '12 at 12:56
  • Provided my parameters, I think this best addresses the core of question: How to replace bog standard with a better, more easily understood American English phrase. I'm still debating using quintessential versus an extended Brothers Grimm comparison, though. And for all you bog standard fans, I'm still going to use it, just somewhere else in my story. Let the readers Google it, if they have to. – Jed Oliver Apr 30 '12 at 16:26

Garden variety and standard issue are possibilities. Stereotypical has an applicable sense but its usual sense of "banal, commonplace and clichéd because of overuse" gets in the way.

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  • "Common or garden [thing]" – Hugo Apr 28 '12 at 22:42
  • Garden varietal, maybe? My garden varietal stepmother... – Jed Oliver Apr 28 '12 at 23:04
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    @SomeNorCalGuy, I don't know how "correct" it is, but I'd simply say, "My garden variety stepmother." – zpletan Apr 29 '12 at 0:10
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    @SomeNorCalGuy No, you would just garden-variety as an adjective. I don’t really like it with a stepmother, though. – tchrist Apr 29 '12 at 17:43
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    The problem is that garden-variety and standard-issue don’t have the added dismissive or derogatory tone that bog-standard does. See my own answer for details. – tchrist Apr 29 '12 at 21:38

Would textbook or archetypal do?

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    Oooooh! Textbook is officially under consideration now. – Jed Oliver Apr 28 '12 at 22:52
  • No, those aren’t negative, so they won’t work. – tchrist Apr 29 '12 at 21:38
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    OP never states an intent to be negative. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Apr 29 '12 at 22:32
  • I think 'archetypal' is a better phrase when referring to people. It can have a negative connotation if the archetype itself is negative. – DisgruntledGoat Apr 29 '12 at 23:43

"Vanilla" sounds like it could work.

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    +1: Yes, and you can say "plain vanilla" as well. And if you can rephrase to include mention of the item you can say, "plain old X" as well. – Jim Apr 28 '12 at 22:31
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    I resent the use of vanilla to mean plain. It’s a rich, complex, and beautiful flavour, the 1970s be damned. – Jon Purdy Apr 29 '12 at 0:18
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    @JonPurdy Indeed, vanilla is the most complex flavor known to man. It has something like 250+ flavor components. Chocolate has fewer than half that count. – tchrist Apr 29 '12 at 4:08
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    @JonPurdy: I agree ~ maybe it's just the color? I believe the term came to mean "plain" based on ice cream shoppes; unfortunately, too many ice cream makers don't use enough real vanilla to flavor their vanilla ice cream – if they use any at all. – J.R. Apr 29 '12 at 9:52
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    Vanilla doesn't have the sort of threatening connotation that the OP is going for, does it? My vanilla stepmother... I think of someone who is vanilla as being mild-mannered or ordinary. – JLG Apr 29 '12 at 15:35

One possibility would be to describe the stepmother as classic. In one sense, the word means outstanding in some way, but it is often used to mean:

Of a well-known type; typical


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  • But classic has a positive connotation, while bog-standard has a negative one. See my answer. – tchrist Apr 29 '12 at 21:42
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    @tchrist, I think paired with stepmother -- classic stepmother -- it would wouldn't have a positive connotation. – JLG Apr 30 '12 at 14:15

This article may be interesting. It says, amongst other things:

Bog-standard is a well-known informal term, which originated in Britain; it means something ordinary or basic, but often in a dismissive or derogatory way.

The problem with all the quasi-synonyms people keep giving here is that they all lack the dismissive/derogatory aspect that bog-standard conveys. That’s why I use it myself, because I don’t know a true synonym.

I suppose in some contexts, pedestrian might work. Another possibility is white-bread, meaning something that is boringly bland, uninspiring, insipid. Sometimes strait-laced may work, too.

But these all seem less useful than plain ol’ bog-standard for something so super-ordinary as to be unremarkable in the extreme, with a dismissive but not quite sneering undertone. As the cited article says, it may have originated in Britain, but its use is not and shouldn’t be limited to there. It’s a good word, one that won’t risk the racial connotations that white-bread may summon up.

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    I think this is helpful in showing that bog-standard probably isn't the ideal term the OP wants regardless of whether Brits or Americans are in the audience as he doesn't seem to be placing importance on the negative connotation. His favorite alternative so far seems to be 'textbook' which also doesn't carry any negative connotation. – Charles W Apr 29 '12 at 21:50
  • @CharlesW I do want that subtle knock that 'bog standard' has. There are lots of phrases on both sides of the Atlantic that mean plain, boring, unexciting, standard or average. But bog standard has a special flavor all it's own. I want the reader in just one or two words get the feeling that she is a straight from The Brothers Grimm standard issue stepmother. She might as well have come stock from the Acme Stepmother Factory in a wooden crate marked "Contents: One Stepmother. This Side Up". -OP – Jed Oliver Apr 29 '12 at 22:12
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    @SomeNorCalGuy I don't see any inkling of something being archetypal in the provided definition for 'bog-standard.' It seems just to mean so plain as to be bad, typical of a bog's level of interest. From context, I gather that you want to communicate is, 'this lady is a dead-on-ringer for whatever bad ideas are typically associated with stepmothers.' If so, then that doesn't really entail anything about her being plain, hum-drum, or boring -- just that she's 'one of those ones.' Am I off here? I think clarifying this will help. – Charles W Apr 29 '12 at 22:29
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    @SomeNorCalGuy, then perhaps the words you want are simply *evil stepmother*—any American, I'd say, will instantly know what you're talking about. – zpletan Apr 29 '12 at 22:32
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    I'm one of those Americans who knows what bog standard means, but I think in the OP's context, something like "standard issue" or "garden variety" would work better, because "bog standard" really doesn't apply to people. – Marthaª Apr 30 '12 at 5:54

Update: Per OP's comment on tchrist's answer (reproduced below), the term I now suggest is evil stepmother.

@CharlesW I do want that subtle knock that 'bog standard' has. There are lots of phrases on both sides of the Atlantic that mean plain, boring, unexciting, standard or average. But bog standard has a special flavor all it's own. I want the reader in just one or two words get the feeling that she is a straight from The Brothers Grimm standard issue stepmother. She might as well have come stock from the Acme Stepmother Factory in a wooden crate marked "Contents: One Stepmother. This Side Up". -OP

My original suggestion doesn't have much of a negative connotation, and what negativity it has refers to attractiveness. Notwithstanding, I and three others at the time of this edit thought it was a decent answer to what we thought OP was asking, so I leave it in.

Original answer:

How about plain jane?

simple and modest; unadorned; basic: a plain-Jane car dressed up with leather upholstery (Random House Dictionary, via Dictionary.com).

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  • Not much negative connotation there. – tchrist Apr 29 '12 at 21:40
  • True (though I didn't originally know that bog standard carried a negative one). Additionally, what negative connotation it bears relates to attractiveness. I'll edit that in for posterity's sake. – zpletan Apr 29 '12 at 22:23

An American idiom that has a fairly similar meaning is bone stock. (See this answer.)

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    I'm American and having lived in New York, Massachusetts, California, and Arizona, I've never even heard this "idiom" – Jim Apr 28 '12 at 22:27
  • Never heard of bone stock before in my long life. – tchrist Apr 28 '12 at 22:53
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    Apparently, there's a shortage of car guys/gals on EL&U. – Gnawme Apr 28 '12 at 23:11
  • @tchrist: Well, you have now. Thank goodness for longevity. – Callithumpian Apr 29 '12 at 19:16
  • @Gnawme the 43 Chevy Split Window pickup being hot-roded in my garage disagrees with you. – user14070 Apr 30 '12 at 13:57

I find stepmother an unnecessary diversion.

My stepmother, very like women of her time, ...

That would go much better with the context.

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    I think stepmother is a lot worse than "unnecessary" - it effectively makes the question unanswerable. I see no possible way to associate the connotations of bog-standard with stepmother. If we go with OP's "stereotypical", that can surely only mean à la Brothers Grimm, which means nothing in relation to guarding her blood daughter's chastity from a stepson's attentions. So typical of her time (or social class, perhaps) is about all you could identify that might make her care more about such matters (it still seems a silly question to me though). – FumbleFingers Apr 29 '12 at 17:07
  • The question that begs attention here is, who the author suggests the attitude is typical of: stepmothers, or mothers in general, of the time? I think one being a stepmother is not really relevant. – Kris Apr 29 '12 at 17:49
  • It seems relevant to me if the speaker in the excerpt fancies his stepmother's daughter. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Apr 29 '12 at 18:00
  • @cornbread ninja: Okay - so maybe the speaker fancies his stepsister, and his stepmother knows this. In which case one might well expect she'd want them kept apart, but to say she's therefore bog-standard (or stereoptypical, or whatever) sounds really weird to me). Surely any other attitude apart from wanting them kept apart would be would be "weird"? Woody Allen excepted, most people consider sexual congress with "step-relatives" to be a form of incest - universally reviled in all human societies we know of. – FumbleFingers Apr 29 '12 at 21:16
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    It seems like something of a stretch application of mother-in-law jokes. If I had to guess at a stereotype of stepmothers as compared to other types of mothers it would be that there may be additional tension or distance or even resentment in the relationship. – Charles W Apr 29 '12 at 21:47

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