Op-Ed

‘Special snowflake’ is the Triscuit of insults. Banish it in 2017

For many of us, this may be the worst “most wonderful time of the year” in recent memory. But there’s at least one seasonal tradition that is made easier, not to mention more fun, by virtue of just how bad things are: the annual call for moratoriums.

Amid the “best of” lists and “things we won’t miss about 2016” roundups, professional blatherers such as myself are wont to issue decrees about what expression, phrase or cultural phenomenon really needs to be put out to pasture.

This year, the mind reels. In addition to the nomenclature associated with the newly scorched political landscape — “normalize” wins the 2016 buzzword championship — there are many notable contenders from the world of social media and pop culture.

Among these, I would give a nod to “hive mind,” a loathsome Facebook reference for the crowdsourcing of opinion. “Hive mind” is both a noun and a strange kind of verb. “Attention: hive mind!” someone will say, “What’s the best way to cook bacon?” Within seconds, the pile-up of competing and contradictory responses — “in the oven,” “in a skillet,” “you eat pork? I’m disgusted” — will have “hive minded” the question into unanswerability.

Other candidates for deletion from the cultural lexicon in 2017 include “amirite?” as a jauntily smug substitute for “am I right?,” “just wow” as an expression of gobsmacked incredulity (“gobsmacked” too has worn out its welcome) and my own personal pet peeve, “badass” as a designation for any woman who displays the barest minimum of personal agency — getting out of bed, going to work, paying the rent — and then touts it as a show of resistance against the patriarchy.

But as much as I would like to see these tropes take the nearest exit off the conversational highway, they are minor infractions compared to the most overused and worn out expression of the year: “special snowflake.”

This is the designation for the kind of young person — generally a millennial — who has been raised to see herself and her experiences as unique and therefore demanding of heightened levels of sensitivity and respect. Just as no two real life snowflakes are exactly alike (mostly because their composition is affected by their journey to the ground) the metaphorical versions are known for fragile hypersensitivity born of narcissism.

According to the stereotype, snowflakes drive professors crazy by recoiling at emotionally charged reading material and drive their bosses crazy by chafing at the concept of an office hierarchy. They can’t tell the difference between an awkward social interaction and a microaggression.

There are no doubt plenty of people behaving in just those ways. But as terminology goes, “special snowflake” has been doing a poor job of describing them for a very long time. In fact, it has been rendered nearly as meaningless as “political correctness,” a term that once described a fairly specific relationship between words and ideas but has now become a pejorative smokescreen for saying bigoted or just mean-spirited things in the guise of “telling it like it is.”

As with “political correctness,” invoking the snowflake label is essentially lazy, like reaching into the cupboard and pulling out whatever is closest, even if it’s a box of stale Triscuits. In fact, “snowflake” is essentially the Triscuit of insults. It’s bland and obvious. It shows no imagination. I daresay it’s kind of an old person thing.

That’s because the “snowflake” category is no longer limited to aggrieved college students complaining about safe spaces. It now includes just about any young person saying or doing things differently than an older person might.

Those protesters involved in the Occupy movement or resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock? Snowflakes! Bernie Sanders supporters enamored of the idea of free college? Snowflakes! Conducting the bulk of your relationships over text message or Snapchat? Not just snowflakes but a towering slab of frozen, soot-encrusted, dog- pee-stained white stuff! A blizzard for the ages! Ammunition for climate-change deniers looking for evidence that Earth is not warming after all! Amirite?

So if I may borrow the soaring rhetoric with which President Obama told the Russians to stop cyberattacks against the U.S., “cut it out” with the snowflake references next year. As the hive mind will tell you, there are bigger bacon bits to fry right now. And if you’re feeling gobsmacked, well, get in line. That sensation is about as unspecial as it gets these days.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

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