Why ‘OK boomer’ is causing controversy, from politics to late night

A new slang term is causing a generational rift — but why?

Since originating on TikTok — the video-driven social media app popular with Generation Z — earlier this year, the phrase “OK boomer” has become shorthand for mocking an older person from the baby boomer generation, a.k.a. those born between 1946 and 1964. According to the New York Times, it’s a “rallying cry for millions of fed-up kids,” who find their elders to be out of touch or privileged.

On its face, the term is dismissive but typically harmless, the kind of thing a teen might use to rib, say, 69-year-old Dr. Phil struggling to master VSCO girl catchphrases, or fire back at a parent who has just delivered a lecture on curfews.

Or, in the case of 25-year-old politician Chlöe Swarbrick, it’s something you might deploy when a heckler is teasing you about your age during your speech on climate change before the New Zealand parliament this week.

Swarbrick’s on-trend retort has the internet hailing her as a “queen” — but others aren’t so charmed by the term. Some critics see “OK boomer” as an ageist low blow — or worse, a slur.

Fellow New Zealand MP (a member of Parliament) Christopher Bishop tweeted his “unpopular and non-woke opinion” that Swarbrick was being hypocritical by using age-shaming to defend herself against age-shaming.

Swarbrick responded that she was “making the point of calling out hypocrisy” with regard to her comments about climate change and the youth.

There are also those who claim that “OK boomer” is a slur on par with the N-word. Conservative radio talk show host Bob Lonsberry stirred up a fierce debate this week by tweeting that “boomer” is “the N-word of ageism.” Critics piled on, accusing Lonsberry of overreacting, with even Dictionary.com’s Twitter account taking him to task for comparing “Boomer” to “one of the most offensive words in the English language.”

Lonsberry’s controversial tweet also became fodder for late-night TV. On Tuesday, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert featured a segment in which Colbert shot down Lonsberry’s comparison — and even managed to work in an “OK boomer” dis of his own.

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