What Does Snowflake Mean?
So, what is a snowflake? The word once only referred to drops of frozen rain, with their complex and unique patterns; often associated with Christmas and the beauty of nature. Now the word has gained a new meaning based ironically in associations with a special fragile delicacy. It’s even passed beyond casual slang and into legitimate vernacular.
Snowflake is used to describe an overly sensitive person, highly susceptible to offence, who is perceived as believing the world revolves around them and their feelings. Snowflakes are stereotyped as gasping in disgust and horror at contrary opinions, and thinking they have a right to be protected from potentially uncomfortable or unpalatable statements and points of view.
It is a derogatory and politically laden slur – but who exactly does it refer to and who are generation snowflake?
Who Are Generation Snowflake?
Snowflake is used broadly by conservatives to refer to those with liberal ideology, however the phrase ‘generation snowflake’ has a more specific connotation. Generation snowflake is a derogatory label for millennials, used by those who feel they’re overly socially conscious without taking real action.
Urban Dictionary quotes Fight Club to describe the term’s origin, and also gives the example, “Comedians have a hard time performing on college campuses because of all the little snowflakes running around that get offended by just about anything they say.”
Collins dictionary gives a simple definition of generation snowflake as "The generation of people who became adults in the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations."
While snowflakes do cross the blurry lines of generation division, it usually refers to millennials and Generation Z; young people aged in their late teens and early twenties. Snowflakes are considered hostile to free speech due to their excessive determination to shield themselves from ideas they don’t like.
Apparently, snowflakes coined the phrases ‘safe space’ to refer to special areas where ideas cannot be challenged, and ‘trigger warning’ cautioning that contrary ideas might be expressed. They are also associated with the term ‘no platforming’, whereby conservative ideologies cannot be debated in universities.
Origin Of The Snowflake Label
Chuck Palahniuk, author of the novel from which 1999’s film Fight Club was adapted, has claimed he invented the term. The media quotes him as saying it "does come from Fight Club", and he adds it resonates even more two decades later. “Every generation gets offended by different things but my friends who teach in high school tell me that their students are very easily offended.”
However, America's Miriam-Webster dictionary claims snowflake has been used as an insult for nearly 150 years with a different meaning. “It was used for a time with a very particular political meaning. In Missouri in the early 1860s, a snowflake was a person who was opposed to the abolition of slavery – the implication of the name being that such people valued white people over black people.”
The use of generation snowflake is often traced back to Claire Fox’s 2016 book, I Find That Offensive. She wrote the generation has an "almost belligerent sense of entitlement."
Popularisation Of The Term
The phrase became particularly popular after the 2016 campus clashes in America, stemming from outrage expressed over culturally insensitive Halloween costumes. Trigger warnings began to be flagged on books and lectures containing potentially upsetting subjects, and one student’s union conference banned applause at meetings, invoking that it may cause trauma. There were reports of students calling in sick and spending the day crying when Trump was elected.
Snowflakes were apparently horrified by jokes in the 90’s sitcom Friends upon its release on Netflix, and by old James Bond films with Sean Connery.
The phrase became popular in the UK as older generations laughed at what they felt to be hysterical reactions to the EU referendum.
In Defence Of Millennials: The Backlash
Many millennials and non-millenials argue that the label is misguided and unfair, rebuking the stigma and hatred it invokes. They claim that the supposed syndrome is a slur with deep roots in the toxic alt-right, who are often associated with white supremacy and sexism. The backlash maintains that millennials don’t seek an impossibly perfect world, but are choosing to buck the legacy of past generations. After all, millenials consume less drugs and alcohol than previous generations, and youth turnout at elections is higher than prior decades.
Furthermore, mental health statistics are increasingly dire for this generation. It’s argued that creating stigma toward a generation with high diagnoses of depression is damaging.
Millennials constantly challenge the notion that their generation has it easy – stating that the job market is increasingly insecure; and that housing prices, rent, and university fees are reaching new heights. They say older generations are responsible for climate change, which threatens an almost apocalyptic future. Millennials also increasingly fight against racism, stigma towards the LGBTQ community, and gender inequality. The #MeToo movement, associated by some with overreaction, represented a global awakening to the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse toward women. Is a propensity for sensitivity not justified in the face of these issues? Is it unfair to take a hard stance on oppression, injustice and other social issues pertaining to race and gender politics? Or is the snowflake generation a legitimate descriptor of overly sensitive young people unable to deal with reality?
The debate continues to rage.