OnWords: OK Boomer

Jan 7, 2020

When you hear this, the term “OK Boomer” will probably already be fading from public view.

As you may recall, the term was briefly noteworthy as a way for Millennials and those younger to signal Baby Boomers’ cluelessness about matters important to young people. “OK Boomer” has been appended to subjects such as climate change, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the crushing debt from student loans.

Boomers responded by calling the term ageist, and Millennials and Gen Z shot back that such a reaction from Boomers simply proves their point: “OK Boomer” is not actually about Boomers, and they’re clueless in assuming it is.

The term is of interest here because of how the very debate over “OK Boomer” seems to have derailed the term. When the initial accusation that “OK Boomer” brought up, that Boomers were clueless, was met with a clueless response, there was nowhere else for the term to go, nothing else for it to do.

“OK Boomer,” in making history, quickly became history.

We often rightly blame the speed of online communication with quickly killing what might otherwise be useful phrases and terms (when we’re not blaming Millennials and Gen Z for killing language). And electronic communication does appear to shorten attention spans and circumvent depth.

But with “OK Boomer,” we see how certain phrases sow the seeds of their own destruction by engaging the dialectic language implies and resolving its dilemmas at the same time.