What fails means in internet slang
Karen joins a trend on the internet in the 2010s of using a first name to make fun of certain kinds of people. A. Becky, for example, is a stereotype for a “basic” young, white woman, while a Chad, in other corners of the internet, stands in for a cocky, young "dudebro."
But why the name Karen? Karen has widely been credited to Black Twitter in the 2010s. Another suggestion is that it comes from a 2005 bit by Dane Cook called "The Friend Nobody Likes." (The friend was named Karen.) An additional explanation is that it comes from the character Karen in the 2004 film Mean girls, who’s the subject of the popular quote: "Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask someone why they’re white." It's even been put forth thatKaren comes from the even earlier 1990 film Goodfellas, in which one of the characters is named Karen.
Whatever the origin of the slang, the name Karen, apparently, is popularly thought of as a generic-seeming name for a middle-aged white woman of a certain generation. According to Social Security data,Karenwas indeed the fourth most popular name for newborn girls in the 1960s, peaking at # 3 in 1965.
Record of the insult Karen appears as early as September 2016 when a Tumblr user, joematar, made fun of a promo for Nintendo Switch in which a white woman (appearing to be in her late 20s or early 30s) brings the gaming device to a party. The user refers to this supposed kill-joy as Karen: “Oh shit, Karen brought her stupid Nintendo thing to the party again. We're DRINKING, Karen. We're having CONVERSATIONS. "
The character was further developed in December 2017 thanks to a subreddit dedicated to mocking the imagined Karen (somewhat like Cook’s “The Friend Nobody Likes” bit). Tropes that developed about Karen here were that she is an annoying (and always annoyed) middle-aged, suburban, minivan-driving white, divorced mother of poorly behaved boys (of whom she has custody) who has a so-called “speak to the manager” haircut.
Know your meme
This haircut is a short, angled blonde bob, sometimes called a "mom haircut." “Speak to the manager” refers to escalating complaints or demands from retail or restaurant workers to their managers — a stereotypical behavior of Karen. The "Speak to the Manager Haircut" meme has been around since 2014. In September 2018, the "Speak to the Manager" haircut meme merged with Karen when it was uploaded to the Karen subreddit by user vidoardes.
Beginning in at least 2017, Karens have been closely associated with Baby Boomers. Some millennials and members of Generation Z have called out boomers for being close-minded and behind-the-times, especially when it comes to unprogressive views on such things as gender, sexuality, and youth culture more generally (such as the viral "Kidz Bop Karen ”woman video videotaped in a road confrontation).
Spreading online in early November 2019 was a joke that Generation X is the Karen generation (the name being associated with people born between 1964-85). This came on the heels of OK boomer, a slang phrase (and viral phenomenon) dismissing opinions and attitudes associated with Baby Boomers (especially white male members of this generation). This prompted some reporters to investigate intergenerational conflict on social media further. BuzzFeed ran a piece on November 14, called “Gen Z is Calling Gen X‘ The Karen Generation ’,” citing some activity on Twitter and TikTok.
13yo: Ok, boomer.
Me: For the last time, I'm Gen X. Your insults have no power over me.
13yo: Ok, Karen.
That was a bit low.
- Shannon Carpenter (@HossmanAtHome) November 16, 2019
Karen further spread in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic and protests for racial justice. White women in viral videos — engaging in what was criticized as selfish or racist behavior — were shamed as Karens. The mayor of Las Vegas, for example, was called a Karen when, in a TV interview, she pushed to reopen casinos without social distancing despite warnings otherwise. Another notable instance was “Central Park Karen,” the epithet for a white woman who called the police on a Black man who was birdwatching in the Manhattan park, falsely accusing him of threatening her.
Also in 2020, popular discussions online considered the name for a paint Karen. Many people put forth similarly generic white male names associated with Baby Boomers or Generation X, such as Richard, Kevin, other Ken. On the one hand, that no male name has quite taken hold (male Karens being called paint Karen's) suggests that, while Karen calls out racism, some misogyny is always at work in the slang. Due to these misogynistic dimensions of Karen, on the other hand, a related topic was whether Karen was a slur — a concern that many dismissed as it erases white privilege and systemic racism from the social equation. Karen is indeed a very loaded, complex slang term that continues to evolve.
During summer 2020, the term Karencore gained some traction as an ironic “appreciation” of the unique fashion and aesthetics (-core) often associated with the Karen stereotypical. Karencore includes things such as the “speak to the manager” haircut, minivans, rhinestones, “Live, Laugh, Love” posters, and Spotify playlists consisting of 2000s-era pop / pop-rock songs.
And if you're curious, in 1965, the year Karenreached its peak popularity as the third-most popular girls name in the US? The male counterpart what David.
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