For a long time now, the cross-generational dialogue between baby boomers and millennials has been built atop several recurring themes. Boomers — the generation born roughly between 1946 and 1965 — scoff that millennials expect “participation trophies” for doing the bare minimum. “OK Boomer” is a catchphrase, internet meme and a form of age-based discrimination that gained popularity among younger cohorts throughout 2019, used to dismiss or mock attitudes stereotypically attributed to the baby boomer generation. This slang term was coined by members of Generation Z and adopted by millennials to express frustration with the viewpoints of their baby boomer counterparts.
OK boomer implies that the older generation misunderstands millennial and Gen Z culture and politics so fundamentally those years of condescension and misrepresentation have led to this pointedly terse rebuttal and rejection. Rather than endlessly defend decisions stemming from deep economic strife, to save money instead of investing in stocks and retirement funds, to buy avocados instead of cereal — teens and younger adults are simply through.
Adam Cooper is an associate teaching professor of linguistics at Northeastern University who studies how languages change over time. About the prominence of the ‘Ok boomer’ phrase, Cooper says, “With this prominence and exposure, it may lose its potency as an expression of frustration”. Cooper says that “ok boomer” shares many characteristics of slang terms that came before it—it’s considered fairly informal speech, and it’s a phrase that was created by a community that isn’t in a position of power.
These are groups that, by and large, have vastly different economic realities, political priorities, and access to higher education, and those generational differences are what inspired “ok boomer” in the first place, Cooper highlights. What sets the phrase apart from other slang phrases such as “lit” or “talk to the hand” or “beat feet” is the way “ok boomer” makes explicit this generational and power divide.