A flippant, two-word retort has exploded in popularity this year, encapsulating an increasingly evident divide between Generation Z, millennials and their older counterparts, the baby boomers.
“OK boomer” is a pithy way young generations are clapping back toward people they perceive to be out of touch. But discussion about the meme reached an uncomfortable apex Monday when conservative radio host Bob Lonsberry vented his frustration on the phrase, tweeting that “boomer” is “the n-word of ageism.”
“Being hip and flip does not make bigotry ok, nor is a derisive epithet acceptable because it is new,” Lonsberry wrote in his now-deleted tweet.
It was not immediately clear what prompted Lonsberry to tweet the sentiment, and he did not reply to an email from The Washington Post requesting comment. A recent New York Times story on the phrase thrust it further into the national spotlight, adding to an entire genre of TikTok videos and dedicated merchandise, though it wasn’t clear if Lonsberry’s tweet was prompted by that story.
Whatever the motivation, Lonsberry’s tweet was ratioed, and he deleted it entirely Monday afternoon.
Lonsberry has worked for more than three decades as a reporter, columnist and commentator, according to his website. He also hosts conservative radio shows on New York-area stations WHAM and WSYR. Lonsberry is no stranger to bombastic takes, and some have cited a racist early-2000s incident in which he was fired from WHAM radio after alluding to William A. Johnson Jr., the former black mayor of Rochester, N.Y., as a monkey. He was later rehired.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of replies to Lonsberry’s Monday tweet (in addition to his other tweets throughout the day) contained some variation of “OK boomer.” Some noted how ridiculous his comparison was, including Dictionary.com, whose often timely replies have become synonymous with many viral Internet stories.
Dictionary.com defines boomer as “an informal noun referring to a person born during a baby boom, especially one born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1965.”
In contrast, it wrote, the n-word “is one of the most offensive words in the English language.”
“While many baby boomers were connected to youth counterculture in the 1960-70s, they have since become blamed in the 2010s by people in younger generations for many societal woes, from the high cost of college tuition to the failure to address climate change,” the website writes in its definition of OK boomer. “This blame has contributed to the negative connotation of boomer, which — as seen in a phrase like OK boomer — dismisses a person from that generation (and older people more generally) as out of touch, close-minded, and part of the problem.”
In other replies, Twitter users took aim at Lonsberry and others who have criticized “OK boomer,” noting the phrase goes beyond mocking boomers for being bad at Facebook, serving as greater commentary on generational condescension and irreverence.
As NBC News noted last week, some teens see the phrase as their version of the term “snowflake” — a way to mock the manner in which some boomers speak about millennials and Generation Z.
But as with nearly all Internet trends, this meme is not all-encompassing. Tanzina Vega, host of “The Takeaway” at WNYC, posted a thread Thursday about “OK boomer,” noting that the implied criticism seems to only truly apply to the most privileged members of the boomer generation.
“So many critiques of older folks are about a specific kind of older person — educated, professional etc. Ever meet an older person who’s struggling? Who grew up in poverty?” Vega wrote. “Then you want to critique them for not understanding Snapchat or whatever? Miss me with that.”
Despite the understandable frustration with the “OK boomer” meme, Lonsberry’s brazen juxtaposition of “boomer” to the n-word — a racial slur so offensive even he didn’t feel comfortable spelling it out — was far from an apt comparison.
Abby Ohlheiser contributed to this report.