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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