How “Karen” Became a Synonym for A** H***

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Oddly enough, the organization that keeps track of the popularity of baby names is the Social Security Administration, the same friendly people who constantly fill my in-box with phishing alerts as enterprising young folks seek to make a quick buck bamboozling boomers.

For the last five years or so, the most popular names for girls are in descending order: Emma, Olivia, and Ava, the terminal “ah” sound dominating.

These names seem rather old-school to me, e.g., Emma Wodehouse, Olivia from Twelfth Night, and St Ava[1] have been around for centuries.

On the other hand, up-and-coming girls’ names sound much more exotic. Here are the top trending choices for this year’s pink clad newborns: Meaghan, Dior, Adalee, Palmer, Oaklynn, Haisley, Keily, Novah, Yara, and Ensley, five out of ten scoring a red-squiggly underline from my spell checker.

One female name that you won’t find on any popularity lists is Karen, which recently has entered our lexicon in the form of a common noun denoting a certain irritating sort of entitled mom easily offended and quick to ask to speak to the management.

Here’s Urban Dictionary top definition (which violates the rhetorical stricture of placing the word to be defined in a category and distinguishing it from other members of the category):

TOP DEFINITION

Karen

gives raisins to kids on Halloween

drives an SUV to carpool her kids to soccer practice… better hope the ref doesn’t make a wrong call because she will sue!

love to use snapagram to post her workout selfies

after a long day of talking to managers and driving her kids around she sits down with her mom friends at book club and drinks lots and LOTS of wine

“oh my god Karen do you really have to talk to the Burger King manager every time they forget to give you a ketchup packet.“

“LOL! Yes!! I have to Facebook and instasnap it to all my friends to make sure everyone knows to watch out LOL!!!”

##karen #soccermom #probablyaboomer

by omgurmomsaboomer November 27, 2019

I had never heard of the term Karen as a common noun until the other day when I ran across it in Brian Hick’s column in our local paper, The Post and Courier. He wrote, ironically, “Because, of course, public health decisions should be based on the protests of some Karen in front of a Baskin-Robbins and not, you know, the fact-based recommendations of epidemiologists.”

I found the phrase “some Karen” odd, and, as so often happens when you run across a new word or locution, I started seeing “Karen” all over the place, especially on Twitter, the high church of herd mentality.

So I wondered why Karen and not Cindy or Debbie or Caitlin. So I went to my number one source for literate explanation, VOX.

The “Karen” meme has multiple origins, each one using the idea in slightly different ways. But one of the most prominent uses developed on Reddit, thanks to a redditor known for posting amusingly bitter invectives about his ex-wife — posts so amusing, they inspired a high school student to make an entire subreddit, r/FuckYouKaren, devoted to turning his saga into a meme.

Karmacop97 is a 17-year-old from Irvine, California. He made the subreddit two years ago as a joke and named it after the now-deleted user account Fuck_You_Karen. At first, karmacop97 told me, the subreddit was “just to compile the lore behind this guy’s relationship,” which he viewed as likely being a parody. The villainous Karen had taken the kids and then the house, both typical parts of the “Karen” meme. Soon, a few thousand redditors had subscribed to make memes based on the redditor’s enraged posts — but when that aggrieved user eventually deleted his account and vanished shortly after the subreddit’s creation, the forum kept growing. Since then, the subreddit has grown from 4,000 redditors to more than 435,000 — and the memes posted there call out all kinds of “Karen”-ish behavior.

In particular, the “Karen” has evolved into a figure known for her hypocrisy, rudeness toward working-class staff, and anti-science beliefs.

So there you have it. Like the name Bubba, which has come to designate an unsophisticated  white Southerner, we have Karen, a name that now is an insult, designating an entitled, unsophisticated pain-in-the-ass white woman with an untrendy hair-do, which is too bad if your name happens to be Karen. The first Karen that comes to my mind is a former colleague who is the antithesis of the meme’s caricature. She’s witty, compassionate, well-educated, a believer in global warming and vaccination – and she’s not a boomer!


[1] BTW, Today (29 April) is St Ava’s  Saint’s Day. Cured by blindness by St. Rainsfredis, she was elected abbess at Dinart, Hainaut in c. 845.

 

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Wild Kingdom 2020, Folly Beach Backyard Edition

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To tell the truth, I’m not a fan of nature documentaries. For one thing, I don’t need to be constantly reminded that exotic habitats are rapidly disappearing from our poisoned planet, nor do I enjoy the spectacle of claws, talons, and incisors ripping the flesh from scampering rodents, warthogs, zebras, giraffes, antelopes, or baby elephants. The whole Darwinian horror show of survival shivers me timbers, sends rushes of disgust up my spinal cord.

And who in the hell are you supposed to pull for?  The pride of lions with their adorable cubs and dead-beat dads need to eat, but the elands about to be preyed upon seem somehow more sympathetic. Inevitably, after the kill come packs of scurvy hyenas (who also need to eat) who chase off the lions and take over the flesh-ripping and ravenous swallowing. Yuck.

Not surprisingly, given my delicate sensibility, in my youth I became an avid indoorsman, an inept male incapable of stringing a rod and reel (or baiting a hook for that matter) but one who could distinguish Jimmy Cagney from George Raft, Buster Keaton from Harold Lloyd. Why go traipsing through insect infested swamps when you can read “The Big Two-Hearted River” while sipping on a peaty single-malted Scotch?

That said, I happen to live in a spot that provides wide open views of the Folly River, which boasts an abundance of wildlife. Out back I’ve seen dolphins, otters, a mink, herons, egrets, ospreys, bald eagles, wood storks, bats, racoons, and rats. About twenty years ago, my late wife Judy Birdsong cajoled me into building a bird feeder, which consisted of a sheet of plywood positioned on a metal pole in the backyard. Judy would scatter seeds there, and birds would visit, chasing each other off until that fateful day when a red-tailed hawk swooped down and snatched one of the birds while the rest frantically peppered the plate glass windows that provide us our views. Afterwards, Judy insisted I disassemble the feeder, which suited me fine.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against sunlight, consider vitamin D an asset. In fact, my favorite watering hole Chico Feo is an al fresco bar that closes when it rains or gets too cold. So now with Chico Feo shut down during the quarantine[1], my wife Caroline and I spend our happy hours on our back deck enjoying a couple of pre-dinner libations. This April has featured unusually low humidity, and it’s enjoyable looking out over golden sunlight dappling the greening marsh and watching merchant ships in the distance sliding past the Morris Island Lighthouse in and out of Charleston Harbor.

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So there we were yesterday sitting on our deck enjoying our ridiculously highbrow conversation (was Wallace Stegner’s Lyman Ward a more sympathetic amputee than Hemingway’s Harry Morgan) when Caroline suddenly stood up cried, “Oh, no!”

“What’s the matter?”

A bird just slammed into the window and dropped to the ground!”

“What kind of bird?”

“I think it was a cardinal,” she said.

“Oh, it’ll probably come to,” I said, unmoved (and unmoving), but Caroline was already scampering down the steps to comb through the Asiatic jasmine for fallen bird, which, amazingly she found in a couple of minutes, a male painted bunting, not a cardinal, inert but not dead.

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Caroline picked him up and placed him in a net we use for scooping out our water garden and placed the net in the middle of the yard. We watched intensely, hoping for some movement, but there was none. Then the shadow of a large bird darkened the deck, and sure enough, we looked up to see a red-tailed hawk cruising.

So both of us went down and placed the net in a wax myrtle for greater camouflage. The bunting was now standing, but otherwise not moving, looking like the taxidermized Carolina Parakeet (long extinct) that was displayed in the Old Charleston Museum off of Calhoun Street.

Caroline noticed that maybe his claw was entangled in the mesh of the net, and as she reached down, the bunting flew off into a thicket of Elaeagnus, where I think he and his mate nest.

We cheered!

The gorgeous fellow will live to see another day –– maybe.

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And as far as the red-tailed hawk is concerned, let him eat rats.

hawk 3 (original)


[1] You can on some days still get takeout.

Sunday Evening Blues

Melancholy_ Wes (1894)

“Monday, Monday, just can’t trust that day,” sing the Mama and Papas, but T Bone Walker in “Stormy Monday” argues Tuesday is just as bad.

Not so for Steve Wright of the Easy Beats, who feels better on Tuesdays, claiming that “even my old man looks good.”

It’s Wednesday morning at five o’clock when that Beatles girl slips away from her parents to meet “a man from the Motortrade.”

Tripping on acid, Donovan claims “the gulls go willing spinning on Jersey Thursday,” referring not to the scavenger gulls of Asbury Park but to the ones of the isle between England and Normandy.

Again, the Easy Beats: “On Monday, I got Friday on my mind.”

Twenty-four hours later, Tom Waits is gassing her up, hand on the wheel, arm around his sweet one in his Oldsmobile, looking for the heart of a Saturday night.

That leaves the Christian sabbath, Sunday, Bloody, Sunday. Lucinda Williams and I can’t seem to make it through Sunday. [sigh]

 

 

Sunday Evening Blues

 

On Sunday nights

I remember

lying on the bottom bunk

in my pajamas,

wishing I’d done my homework,

listening to the stampeding notes

of Bonanza’s theme song

echoing from the den as I dreaded tomorrow.

 

In the stasis of quarantine,

it seems I should be able to shake

this chronic case

of the Sunday blues.

 

After all, Monday mornings don’t matter anymore.

I don’t need machines to measure minutes,

yet that childhood sadness endures,

indelible, resistant to erosion,

carved into the tombstones

of so many Sabbaths. [1]


[1] Yes, dammit, the shortening of each successive line of the last stanza is intentional.

Into the mystic

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We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic

Van Morrison

Somewhere along the line I lost my fascination for what Walter Cronkite used to call Outer Space.

Sure, black holes and red giants possess a certain hellish Boschian charm, but let’s face it: OS is mostly vast vacuity. Oh, plenty of stuff swirls around out there, but the most interesting phenomena –  the aforementioned black holes, the birth and death of stars, etc., –  are so way out and so far apart that they offer no hope of cosmic closure to eschatological questions concerning the ultimate nature of things.

Our closer neighbors, the little stuff, your dinosaur-erasing asteroids, once in-a-life-time comets, barren planets, and birdshot meteorites amount to small change interest-wise. Mere detritus from Deism’s Watchmaker’s washing his hands of the entire enterprise.

In short, enormous stretches of faraway nothingness leave me cold.

outer space

For me, inner space is where it’s at.  By inner space, I mean not only the mysteries of subatomica, but also all that’s inside of us, e.g., that microcosmic flash-forwarding through all the evolutionary changes we undergo in utereo: dividing cells develop gills, lose tails, sprout lungs, etc.

We have evolutionary history embedded in our very beings.  Our brains are reptilian as well as humanoid.  Whether you buy into Jung or not, the idea of a collective unconscious – a storehouse of symbols passed down genetically – offers intriguing speculation.[1]

2001-A-Space-Odyssey

Jung’s conception of the collective unconscious presupposes a genetic transference of universal symbolic conceptualizations, a sort of mental equivalent of that evolutionary progress described above as we morph in the womb from fertilized egg to ameba to fish to flesh to human.  In other words, according to Jung, our mental heritage includes submerged traces of our ancestor’s obsessions – mother, other, trickster, crone, etc. – passed along somehow genetically as a sort of stillborn instinct that haunts us without our being aware of its haunting.

For, example, Jung considered the Trickster archetype a rudimentary mental relic from prehistorical times as evidenced in that archetype’s dominance in pre-agrarian myths.

The archetype appears in various cultures at various stages, e.g., Greek Hermes the infant cattle rustler, Norse Loki the shape-shifter, Native American Raven the sun-stealer, Br’er Rabbit the African transplant prevaricator, and, of course, Bugs Bunny the Brooklyn wiseacre cross-dressing seducer of Elmer Fudd.

elmer bugs

An excavation of our stratified consciousnesses uncovers layers of archetypes, the most primitive lying at the deepest layers, but it’s more complicated than that, because it’s as if the strata are always in motion, like the contents of a washing machine, the loin cloth and aerodynamic ski suit tumbling in a dynamic that might make loin cloth rise to the surface. E.g., check out on any fall Saturday engineering undergraduates at Georgia Tech or Clemson or Purdue stripped to the waist, applying the tribal colors, headed to the stadium to roar and screech like howler monkeys.

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Saisy

How instincts travel through the inner space of genetics is a mystery. I had a dog named Saisy who was a longhair German pointer/ border collie mix. On our walks, various strains of her ancestry would manifest themselves. A child on a bicycle teetering down our lane became a sheep to be guided (or as it turns out, driven into a drainage ditch). That was the border collie in her.  When she pointed after picking up a scent, that was the German longhair pointer in her.  When she barked ferociously at the UPS truck rumbling outside our house, that was the pure, unadulterated dog in her. I have no clue how science explains these genetic transfers.  For me, it’s a fascinating mystery, and I love mysteries.

I envy those shamans like Blake, Yeats, Jung, and Van Morrison who have gained egress into mystic, into inner space where they can commune with the spirits.  I suspect that if there is a God, we won’t find him searching above, in outer space, but below, in the deep mysterious realms of our own psyches. As some literalist put it to me one time, if Jesus upon his ascension were travelling at the speed of light, he still would be within the Milky Way.

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[1] Although I think it’s a fascinating theory, the genetic transfer of memory seems to me impossible.

Emily Dickinson, Queen of the Quarantine

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Emily Dickinson, Queen of the Quarantine

 

“Soul selects her own Society.”

 

When it comes to social distancing,

Emily is the prototype.

On her solitude insisting,

Forsaking FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype.

 

Allow me to wax anachronistic –

She out-garbos Garbo –

Transliterating Nature’s hieroglyphics,

Her isolation self-imposed.

 

Warren Zevon’s on auto-replay,

“Splendid Isolation,” she don’t need no one,

Like Georgia O’Keefe, all alone in the desert,

But basking in moonlight instead of the sun.

 

 

Last Rites

 

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Last Rites

a poem for Richard O’Prey

The rocky wastes of Connemara

Possess a beauty all their own,

Treeless expanses with whispering grass,

random heaps of scattered stones.

 

When my lungs have ceased to breathe

And my body returned to dust,

Spread my ashes in Connemara

After the day has turned to dusk,

 

And when the dusk has turned to night,

Look up at the myriads overhead;

Then seek the warmth of a convivial pub

And raise your cup to the countless dead.

Presidential Spouses

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I hesitate in this family blog[1] to broach the provocative subject of political spouses, those other halves who often elicit irrational and vehement emotional responses from the brave and the free. For example, some members of my extended family despise Hillary Clinton with such an amped-up animus you might think that she had deliberately poisoned one of their beloved pets. I mean, I can see how someone might find Hillary off-putting somehow, but good lord, what could she possibly have done to generate such animosity? Is marrying and constantly forgiving a philanderer, not initially taking his name, working outside the home, and murdering your ex-law partn– choosing garish brightly colored monochromatic pantsuits so wrong?

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These irrational responses to candidates’ spouses, however, can also be positive (in a manner of speaking).  For example, I know a delightful, compassionate, witty woman who idolizes Laura Bush as if she were St. Teresa of Avila.  After enduring an earnest catalog of Laura Bush’s many virtues – poise, spunk, and good taste – I asked my interlocutor (I’m waxing Buckleyean this morning) if she knew that Laura was a smoker.  Oh-no-she’s not.  Oh-yes-she-is.  I mentioned the smoking not because I consider it a character flaw but because I merely wanted to suggest to my friend that Mrs. Bush wasn’t absolutely a paragon of virtue. However, Laura is all right. My son Harrison briefly spoke with her at a Congressional picnic, and he said she was chatty, asking him for whom he worked, mentioning that she and George (as she referred to W) had flown once with Harrison’s Congressman (Bud Cramer) in some kind of official capacity. He said she came off as a genuine and humble person.

2880px-Big_Bird_and_Michelle_Obama_(8555066920)Michelle Obama seemed to be a fairly popular First Lady within the realm of the non-poisonedly partisan and non-racist segment of our population. I somehow never picked up that her father’s side came from the Gullah population of the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Anyway, she embodied upward mobility, following her brother to Princeton and becoming the first family members to receive a college degree.  Then off to Harvard Law and later to land a job at a prestigious firm where she met her future husband, ol’ whathisname. Anyway, she was poised and delivered some killer convention speeches . . .

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Good Golly, Miss Molly

Which brings us to Melania Trump, who is the first First Lady you can check out nude if the inclination strikes you. (I myself have no desire to see any first lady nude except perhaps Dolly Madison.)  Anyway, early in Trump’s term, I sympathized with Melania, wrote this piece about her, but then after her wearing a ”I Really Don’t Care, Do You?” raincoat while visiting detention center for migrant children, my sympathy dissipated.

At first after the brouhaha, she said there was no message intended by wearing the coat, but later claimed that she was sending a message to the leftwing media, not to the detained children, which begs the question, if she didn’t really care what the media thought, why bother to wear the coat?  Anyway, as some wag has pointed out, Melania can come off pretty creepy, looking as if she’s trying to bend spoons with her mind.

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Okay, who’s next?  Jill Biden or will we get another dose of Melania or – I shudder to imagine it — will an Adderall overdose or massive heart attack usher in First Lady Karen Pence, aka “Mother?”  Or then Biden could win and keel over post inauguration, and  we’d get our First Gentleman.

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Who knows?  I certainly don’t.


  1. [1] Many of you have told me how sometimes the entire family, youngsters and oldsters alike, enjoy gathering around the old monitor and reading these posts aloud).
wesley blog

Now that’s what I call wholesome