BOG-STANDARD noun and adjective: Ordinary, basic, standard, average, typical, unexceptional, uninspired, ‘plain vanilla,’ ‘no frills,’ ‘run of the mill,’ lacking any special features or modificaion. The term probably comes from an alteration of ‘box-standard,’ an informal term for a motorcycle, other mechanical device, or computer, which has no modifications, but which is in the condition in which it came out of the manufacturer’s box. <For that price you get your bog-standard production model, without accessories.>
Oxford English Dictionary
ETYMOLOGY:1) [Origin uncertain, perhaps an alteration of ‘box-standard’]: Differing theories of the origin of ‘bog-standard’ have been proposed, but none proven. An immediate association with ‘bog’ (marshy ground) 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 the earlier term. Others have suggested a derivation < ‘bog-wheel’ former Cambridge slang for a bicycle, though ultimately also related to “bog’ (bog-house, latrine) see P. Beale Concise Dictionary of. Slang (1989) 47/2, 48/1>.
Although there is widespread anecdotal evidence (in personal correspondence to the O.E.D., and elsewhere) to suggest that particular association of this term (and ‘box-standard’) with motorcycles and cars dates back to the 1960s, we have yet to find earlier examples in print. In fact, as with ‘box-standard,’ the O.E.D.'s earliest printed evidence relates not to motoring but to computers (although early evidence for ‘box-standard’ as a noun is in engineering and mechanical contexts).
_________________________<1983 “Decryption of a 30-byte cipher block takes about five minutes, using a BOG-STANDARD Z80 running at under 2 Mhz clock rate.”—‘Australian Personal Computer,’ August, page 111/1>
BOX-STANDARD: noun 1) [1884 and now obsolete: A frame or standard of hollow tubing forming the main framework of a machine, engine, etc. 2) adjective : colloquial. (chiefly British). In motoring, engineering, and other technical contexts: in standard manufactured form, unmodified; (hence) basic, unexceptional. See ‘bog-standard.’ Perhaps used originally of motorcycles and cars
ETYMOLOGY: The sense in which ‘box’ can be understood in the phrase varies. In the earlier noun, ‘box’ reflects the hollow framework: hollow tubing is the most economical (and hence most common) material with which to build a strong frame or mounting. In the adjective, ‘box’ is often understood as a reference to packaging, though in quotation, 1983, the sense is clearly of the box as a shape or frame. Given the strong anecdotal evidence of an early association with motorcycles and cars, it is possible the technical sense of the noun was originally present in the adjective, but that ‘box standard’ came later to be interpreted (or rationalized) as meaning ‘a standard engine frame, etc., without modifications, such as one might expect straight from the manufacturer's box’, in turn giving rise to the present sense.
<1884 “The following claim is made for this invention: In a jointing attachment to wood-planing machines, . . . the standards F 0, to support the jointing devices, consisting in the combination of the cutter-heads supported by adjustable BOX STANDARDS Y, having sliding bearings in the bars V f.”—‘Manufacturer & Builder,’ June, page 127/3>
<1983 “We cannot foresee a 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. There will always be something fresh waiting to be done.”—‘Computerworld’ (In Depth Supplement), 21 February, page 2/3>
BOG-STANDARD: "Bog standard" is British slang meaning "standard issue, no frills, absolutely ordinary." It carries the same slightly derogatory tone as "run of the mill" does here in the U.S. A "bog standard" something isn't really bad, but it's nothing to celebrate with champagne, either. "Bog standard" seems to have first appeared in the 1980s, and has become sufficiently popular in Britain that a search of the BBC News web site turns up more than 450 instances of the phrase. . . . Much effort has been expended attempting to connect it to "bog" as British slang for "toilet," with no success (which is probably just as well). One theory that seems to be gaining wary acceptance among word mavens is that "bog standard" arose as a corruption of the adjective "box standard," meaning something (a computer, for instance) just as it comes out of the manufacturer's box, with no modifications or improvements. "Box standard" in this sense also seems to date to the early 1980s, used mostly in technical or manufacturing contexts
Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words
[Q] From Paul Gretton in The Netherlands; similar questions came from Bernie Booth and Pete Shaw in Sheffield: “Any thoughts on the origin of ‘bog-standard,’ as in ‘bog-standard comprehensive’?”
[A] First some background for readers not close to British affairs. The comment about “bog-standard comprehensives” was produced at a briefing in February 2001 by the Prime Minister’s press spokesman, Alastair Campbell. A comprehensive school in Britain is one for children from 11 to 16 that caters for both sexes and all ranges of abilities ‘Bog-standard’ is a puzzling phrase and nobody knows where it came from. It first appeared in writing in the 1980s, seemingly out of the air. Several subscribers have told me that they remember it from the late 1960s and early 1970s in Rolls Royce and Ford factories and from other engineering environments.
The most obvious suggestion is that it has a link with ‘bog.’ This has long been a British slang term for a lavatory or toilet. It’s a shortened form of the older bog-house for a latrine, privy, or place of ease, which is seventeenth century and is a variation on an even older term, ‘boggard.’ (This doesn’t seem to have any connection with the other sense of boggard or boggart for a goblin or sprite.) The slangy bog definitely has a negative edge to it, so it might just be the origin, though how it came about is far from clear.
Despite the obvious association of ideas, the set of words for privy places doesn’t seem to link directly with bog for a marshy area (though the association no doubt helped it along). There are derogatory terms associated with bogs, such as ‘bog-trotter,’ an eighteenth-century term of abuse for an Irish person. But words like these hardly seem like a source for ‘bog-standard.’
There is a common story that ‘bog’ here is really an acronym from “British or German”, on the grounds that standards in manufacturing were set in Victorian times by British and German engineering. That’s hardly likely, but it’s an interesting example of the tendency among amateur word sleuths to explain any puzzling word as an acronym.
The only other suggestion I’ve seen for the origin of the term is that it’s a corruption or variant form of ‘box-standard,’ for something that is just the way it comes out of the box, with no customisation or improvements. There’s a big problem with this, in that there’s almost no written evidence for anybody using ‘box-standard’ in this way.
The exception is a comment by the British computer inventor and all-round genius Sir Clive Sinclair. In February 1983, he said in an interview with the magazine ‘Computerworld’: “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”.
In the same way that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one sight of the phrase is hardly conclusive evidence, but it does suggest that there just conceivably might have been a jargon phrase in the electronics business at the time, which has since been appropriated and generalised. Or Sir Clive may just have made it up on the spur of the moment as a pun on ‘bog-standard,’ and the true history of the phrase lies elsewhere.
Ken G – December 2, 2004