Editorial: How do you solve a problem like 'chugger'?

A chugger, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "a person who approaches passers-by in the street asking for donations or subscriptions to a charity". There's no mention of mugging - despite the word's origin as a contraction of 'charity' and 'mugger'.

Semantics, maybe, but surely worth considering in the debate over whether street fundraisers should refer to themselves as 'chuggers'. The fact that no one actually thinks that chuggers use violence must make the term less objectionable.

If fundraisers shun the term, the question arises as to what the alternatives are: face-to-face fundraising, street fundraising, direct debit solicitation, or perhaps direct dialoguing? Not very inspiring. In fact, they are either dull or unwieldy. 'Chugging', on the other hand, is memorable, short and at least raises a smile - unless you're a charity suit, it seems.

Whether street fundraisers endorse it or not, 'chugging' is here to stay.

But there's no getting around the occasional vitriolic use of the word in newspaper headlines and columns. Cue the latest suggestion from the fundraisers - why just reclaim the word when you could also redefine it?

An interesting premise, but it means replacing mugger. Beggar isn't any better, and the spelling doesn't work. Blogger might be apt in the technological age, but it's hardly relevant.

So that leaves hugger. It's a nice, cuddly idea, but can we really suggest that fundraisers start flinging their arms around members of the public in an attempt to procure gifts? Charities would soon find themselves facing claims for harassment, or even worse - earlier this year, a Dublin blogger launched 'hug a chugger week', which urged irate shoppers to embrace chuggers and engage them in pointless chitchat to stop them from approaching other shoppers. Imagine if the trend took off - rather than having to sidestep bright-eyed students stopping them with a cheery "have you got a minute to talk about ...", shoppers would find themselves having to circumnavigate orgies of fundraisers and passers-by locked in seemingly never-ending embraces.

No matter which way you look at it, chugger is the common term. Back in 2004, it was included in The Language Report, a collection of words that have entered common usage, which is compiled by TV gameshow Countdown's dictionary expert, Susie Dent. It made it into the OED a year ago. Isn't it time for charities to catch up?

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