If you’re a regular online user, then you may have encountered the term Karen to describe entitled and rude behavior. According to Know Your Meme – an online meme encyclopedia – this slang term is commonly used by white women who act obnoxious in public.
This term is typically applied to middle-aged white women with short asymmetrical haircuts who make unreasonable demands or request to “speak with the manager” when they feel they have been treated unfairly.
Karen is a Scandinavian name, meaning “pure.” It has connections to Katherine and Kaja. Although its etymology remains uncertain, it was first introduced to English in the 1940s and has become increasingly popular for girls ever since.
Karen reached its height of popularity in 1965, when it became one of America’s most common girl’s names. By 2020, however, Karen has fallen out of favor with baby boomers and is now seen as a dated choice for young women.
People often use names to convey social cues such as gender, age, ethnicity and religion. This is especially true of first names which provide important hints about the people you will eventually meet.
Harvard University research has indicated that a person’s name popularity is strongly tied to their social class and geographic location. These factors have an immense effect on what people think of you.
Many people don’t hesitate to use their first name when referring to a certain type of person, even if they may not know them well. Unfortunately, first names can also be used as an opportunity for mockery or attention-getting purposes – such as calling attention to an issue.
It’s especially relevant when discussing the Karen meme, which has gained widespread adoption online in recent years. This expression usually refers to an entitled white woman who acts rude or disrespectful in public.
Matt Schimkowitz, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism at Columbia University, noted that these incidents are indicative of larger racial biases within our society. Furthermore, they’re indicative of our country’s ongoing crisis of racial violence, according to him.
Many of these incidents involve White women who become so indignant at something Black people do that they take action – like calling the police on someone, trying to reserve parking spots for them, or coughing on a restaurant patron.
He noted that some of these behaviors appear to be tied to a harmful myth about female hysteria. Others can be explained by people’s persistent misconception that being angry is bad for women or that men are better at managing their emotions.
Karen is a popular female name of Scandinavian origin and an adaptation of Katherine. It also has masculine Armenian roots, linked to an ancient family in the Middle East. In Armenia, this name is treated with reverence and an air of mythos.
It is a widely-used female given name that enjoys greater popularity than most other names of its gender. Its peak popularity was in the 1950s and 1960s, ranking 828th for newborn girls in 2020.
Karen has become more than just a name in online culture. Like other “basic white person names” like Chad, Becky, and Stacy, the term “Karen” has become an insulting catchall for various behaviors attributed to white privilege.
One of the most egregious examples is an Internet meme that has gained momentum recently: “Speak to the Manager” Karen. In it, she sneers at employees for not being polite enough. A satirical Instagram bio for such a character depicts her as hypocritical, rude towards working-class staff members, and anti-science.
Gwen Snyder, a community organizer in Philadelphia, believes the “Karen” slur is motivated by class prejudice rather than gender prejudice and has been described as “woman-hating.” There are even subreddits dedicated to it such as r/F—YouKaren (which features a profile picture of reality star Jon Gosselin) and Urban Dictionary’s definition: it’s “a term used for people who don’t like or respect other people”.
Many Karens share this feeling. Sun, 23, of Philadelphia, said that while she doesn’t believe it is an offensive slur, they sometimes get caught up in its emotional impact.
That is why it’s essential to comprehend the origins of “Karen,” and be cognizant of how it has been adapted and utilized online. Calling someone out using this term does not imply sexiness, but rather serves to draw attention to behaviors which often go undetected and unchallenged.
Recently, Karen has come to symbolize a type of middle-class white woman exhibiting behaviors indicative of privilege. These may include anti-vaccination, racist microaggressions and belittling service industry workers.
Karen has been used in a variety of ways to describe entitled white women, and its use has grown increasingly prevalent on social media platforms in recent years. Many are divided over whether this term is sexist and ageist; others suggest it serves as an allegory for discussing casual racism and classism that many middle class women engage in.
No matter one’s opinion on the term, most people acknowledge that Karen has become a byword for online misbehavior. These behaviors include calling the police on black neighbors for not having a permit, unfairly accusing a lemonade stand owner of not having permission and even antagonizing Asian American healthcare workers in public forums.
Recently, this type of harassment has seen a marked increase. It has also been connected to various issues associated with class inequity, such as access to affordable housing, healthcare services and financial stability.
In March, the Covid-19 coronavirus emerged and further compounded these class tensions. Many were outraged at those refusing to wear masks or quarantine themselves in public while also criticizing social policing that went along with such actions.
Karens’ privilege-driven actions have been highlighted by activists such as Alicia Sanchez Gill and Angela Attiah, who have drawn attention to the link between class and these types of behaviors. They see them as manifestations of systemic racism and have been vocal in criticizing Karen’s privileged actions.
But it’s impossible to say how much this has affected real-life Karens. One satirical YouTuber, Rachel (CrinkleLuvinASMR), has had to drastically alter her character’s personality due to the trend.
Rachel has recently altered the character of Karen into a cat-loving lesbian. This shift is the result of the politicization of “Karen” over recent years, showing that while this role may be often stereotyped as an entitlement-driven woman, it’s not always so simple.
Karen is a popular female name in Scandinavian culture, but its roots can also be traced to the Middle East. Derived from the Greek word Aikaterine, meaning “pure,” French translations translate it as “clear.” In Armenia where it’s used as a family name, Karen carries more religious significance.
Social Security data shows Karen was the fourth most popular baby girl name in America during the 1960s, peaking at #3 in 1965. Since then, its popularity has declined steadily until 2020 when it fell to 828th position.
Over the years, Karen’s name has become associated with a string of unfortunate incidents. Recently, multiple Karens have made headlines: one who called the police on a Black bird-watcher; another who made an unfounded complaint about a kid selling water without a permit; and yet another who told a woman wearing bikini to cover up.
Some criticize the name’s new significance as a direct consequence of social media. They suggest it has become shorthand for an entitled, privileged and often racist white woman.
However, it is more likely that Karen originated from Dane Cook’s 2005 comedy sketch in which a character named Karen is described as “that friend nobody likes”.
The character’s sense of entitlement was reinforced through her tendency to depend on status markers for identity. This understanding explained why she felt the need to vent about everything to the manager.
Other traits that might contribute to her excessive sense of self include narcissism and admiration for herself. It’s this combination that makes her what we know as “Karen.”
Though its exact origins remain controversial, it does seem to have an underground but culturally established association with rude entitlement. According to a professor of linguistics and nomenclature at the University of Osijek, this term’s rise as a pejorative has brought it into the public eye and further spread its usage.