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What does ‘OK, boomer’ mean? A millennial explains

Generation Z is embracing this new phrase called ‘OK, Boomer.’ But baby boomers have something to say about that phrase. They don’t like it!

A screenshot of a “OK BOOMER” T-shirt designed by Grizzly Designs.
A screenshot of a “OK BOOMER” T-shirt designed by Grizzly Designs.
Screenshot

SALT LAKE CITY — Your child walks into the room. You ask him to do the dishes. Then he looks at you and with eyes rolling says, “OK, boomer.”

Wait, but aren’t you a millennial or a Generation Xer? How does that make sense?

Don’t be confused. It’s happening all across the country and all across the internet. Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook — no matter where you look, you’ll see the phrase. Younger people are calling older people (or anyone who disagrees with their beliefs or are deemed uncool) boomers. Sometimes it’s “OK boomer” and other times it’s “you’re such a boomer.”

Boomers (and anyone older than Generation Z, really) are taking a beating. Some are taking offense.

On Facebook, there’s an entire group dedicated to acting like a boomer — it’s called “a group where we all pretend to be boomers” — where users share posts with typos in the text or image-fails that they attribute to boomers.

In a viral video seen on TikTok, an older man slammed young people by saying, “The millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up.” Teens responded with “ok boomer,” adding videos and art projects centered around the phrase, according to The New York Times.

One teen, Luca Brennan, took a senior photo with the phrase “OK, boomer” written across their T-shirts that went viral on Instagram. Brennan and friends wanted a photo that represented the hot trend they had been following for months.

Young people are calling everyone boomers. And it can happen to you. It happened to this 29-year-old reporter. Out at dinner one night, I asked why our dinner party couldn’t be seated since there were open seats all around the restaurant. The waitress responded by saying those seats are taken. Seconds later, one of my party guests turned to me and said, “You’re such a boomer.”

In the eyes of Generation Z, boomers are no longer only those born during the post-WWII baby boom era, defined as 1946-1964. The term “boomer” now represents older people from a different generation that just don’t get it. They’re not cool. They aren’t hip (ironically, a baby boomer term). They don’t align with your standard set of beliefs.

“A boomer is really more of a type of personality, someone who is intolerant to new ideas and who is ignorant to new ideas,” Luca Brennan, a teen who created the ‘OK boomer; photo, told NBC News. “Stuff like that.”

Dr. Jaime Friedman, 73, of Seattle, finds the term overwhelmingly offensive.

“I utterly loathe stereotyping,” he said, adding, “I don’t know any baby boomers who call themselves baby boomers.”

“I resist any and all forms of stereotyping because I know where it leads and how much pain it causes.”

And he loathes the term “baby boomer” itself since it means, well, nothing, except that it defines a period of time for a specific generation. He said the “OK, boomer” phrase comes from “the same root, the same evil that animates anti-Mormonism, anti-semitism, racism, homophobia. It is exactly the same root.”

“The term baby boomers is just an empty vessel into which people pour their half-baked prejudices, which they can hardly articulate themselves,” he said in a phone interview with the Deseret News. “It’s a term that people are using, having no idea what, literally, what they’re talking about. It’s a revelation of complete and utter ignorance and intolerance.”

But Jay Evensen, a 60-year-old columnist for the Deseret News, said that he didn’t find the term too offensive. He would think someone was just pointing to his age since he is a baby boomer.

He admitted it’s been tough for him to keep up with changing times since technology moves so quickly.

“You should never just dismiss somebody based on some characteristic, whether it’s age or race or whatever. I would think it’s unfortunate if they just dismiss something I say because of my age. That would bother me,” he said.

“You’re saying, you know, I don’t really want to take the time to get to know who you are, or anything about you because of your age. I can just immediately pigeonhole you and just dismiss you. That’s kind of the feeling,” he said.

Still, “OK, boomer” has caught national fire, creating an ongoing dispute between the generations. And sometimes it doesn’t even matter if the generations align. A Generation X dad can be a boomer to his Generation Z son. A millennial can be a boomer to his late-millennial friends.

“I think a big part of why it has caught on is just, like, baby boomers and older people in general love to complain about younger people on the whole,” Sam Harman, 17, who took part in the aforementioned photo, told The New York Times. “They’ll call anyone younger than them ‘millennials,’ and doing the same thing to older people by calling them ‘boomers’ is kind of a push back to that.”

And, as NBC News reports, young people see “boomer” as an inoffensive way to avoid the criticisms from an older generations.

“I don’t think ‘OK boomer’ is a retort on the ‘snowflake’ name-calling,” Hannah Hill, 20, told NBC. “It isn’t intended in the malicious way that ‘snowflake’ is aimed at younger generations. It’s a funny way the younger people can laugh off the entitlement of some baby boomers,” It is a humorous way to say ‘OK, whatever’ and move on with our lives,” she told NBC.

A generational clash

Is the phrase “OK, boomer” just a way for the generations to clash? Is there more to the story?

Joshua Citarella, a researcher of the internet culture, told The New York Times that Generation Z will have a lower quality of life than previous generations.

There’s angst and anxiety over that from Generation Z, who are still young enough where they’re building their place in the world.

That said, the post-millennial generation — that is to say, Generation Z — have some positive aspects of life to look forward too. Post-millennials are on pace to be the most diverse and best-educated generation yet, according to the Pew Research Center. Only a slight majority (52%) are non-Hispanic whites. And the oldest post-Millennials are enrolling in college more than the millennials were at their age.

And post-millennials’ median household income exceeds the income of millennials from when they were that age. The post-millennial have an annual income of about $63,700, which is slightly higher than the millennial salary at the time, which was $62,400, according to Pew Research Center.

Baby boomers are still winning the money game. In all 50 states and in Washington, D.C., the median millennial made less money than the median Generation X person or baby boomer, and boomers made more than Generation X, according to Business Insider.

But the “OK, boomer” craze helps just might help combat this problem. Generation Z has capitalized on selling merchandize associated with the phrase. It’s a way for them to make some extra money tied to something that represents them.

Nina Kasman is one of those merchants. She told The New York Times that she sells “stickers, socks, shirts, leggings, posters, water bottles, notebooks and greeting cards,” as well as a pink sweatshirt that is showing up across the nation.

The other side

The whole phrase began because of a viral TikTok meme from an elderly man slamming the younger generation. But surely, the “OK, boomer is offensive” think-pieces will filter in soon. There are already “Boomer is a slur” items for sale (including pins, coffee mugs and stickers), hinting at a backlash to the term.

Friedman, the Seattle doctor, told the Deseret News that the term “boomer” actually “tells you more about the person who’s using it than the person who’s being described” since it’s a simple, one-word way to generalize someone.

“It tells you that the person who’s using it is a know-nothing, is illiterate, knows no history, knows no culture,” he said.

“It says more about the other bankruptcy of the mental capacity of the person speaking than it tells you anything about this empty category,” Friedman added.

Friedman said he was sometimes called an “American” when he studied at Oxford University. He said he resented the idea since he knew he was more than that.

“I think that the stereotyping of others, it’s one of the basic roots of all evil in the world,” he said. “It’s the laziness of mind.”

It’s healthy for teens to criticize their parents, Friedman said. “But it’s unhealthy, I think, to demonize (them), essentially to generalize about them, to have no particular complaint, and not to have any idea why you’re angry at your parents.”

So where does this all end?

What if the phrase wasn’t “OK, boomer” but “OK, Catholics” or “OK, [insert any stereotype, gender, race, ethnicity, religion here].” The path this creates could be a troublesome one.

Evensen and Friedman agree that to battle the “OK, boomer” concept, people should confront those who use it by asking what they know about boomers. What is a baby boomer? What makes someone a boomer?

We need to ask more important questions about each other, they said. We shouldn’t judge people on stereotypes. We need to find out more about them.

According to Friedman, those questions include, “What interests you? What gives meaning to your life? What do you do as a matter of work? What do you do as a matter of fun? What are your political beliefs? Who in your life do you care about? Are you kind? What work do you? Who do you love? Who do you object to?”

Evensen said he believes “OK, boomer” is a “barrier” for younger generations to separate themselves from others. But it s a barrier that can be broken.

“I think what we really need to do is try to learn to understand each other and appreciate each other and learn from each other,” he said, before adding:

“You don’t want to learn that too late in life.”