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OnWords: Snowflake


A popular idea about the way water freezes notes that all snowflakes are unique, beautiful latticeworks of crystals revealing themselves when magnified and properly attended to.

This notion has led some well-meaning folks to apply the word “snowflake” to people, implying that we are all beautiful in our own way and should be treated according to our own special needs.

But since there’s no fine idea we can’t coarsen, the word “snowflake” has now become a pejorative, dolled out by online trolls and cantankerous commentators to anyone they think is bit too quick to ask for special treatment.

It’s sort of clever, really, as turning “snowflake” into an insult also invokes another aspect of the metaphor; like the real thing, “snowflake” people melt easily. They’re whiners and weaklings, too yielding and delicate to live.

But those who hate snowflakes wouldn’t be complaining from the safety of their keyboards or TV soundstages if they weren’t themselves afraid of mixing it up in real life. They wouldn’t be speaking out if they didn’t believe their own voices weren’t special and unique.

So maybe we shouldn’t be complaining about snowflakes so much as asking how we got to this point.

After all, the freedom we idolize is really about being being unique individuals, about speaking freely in voices all our own.