There was a moment there, when I first heard it, that I felt that I had been asleep, or inattentive for some time. Like a Rip Van Winkel, deep asleep, while bowling is all around him.
But then I woke up, and this new thing was being said, and I wanted to act like I knew what was going on, as if I was on the ground floor, or in the group that originated the word. It was one of those “short cut” words, packed with meanings that everyone understands, a word that came out of nowhere, but it was meant to be a help.
Or was it? As I get older I ponder these things. How does packing a word with just the right things so that everyone will agree that it is accurate make it helpful? The word that mysteriously appeared while I was sleeping is “Karen”.
It’s not a new word, it’s a perfectly good name, held by a lot of friends of mine, now, suddenly it is a shortcut to be used to define a particularly obnoxious, probably odious, creature of the political right. Yep, basically a political label. In the same basic category as “jap” during WWII. It’s a way to describe a person without getting into the specific details. Helpful in a sad, mean spirited sort of way.
It is defended by people because initially it is funny. Long after the funny is gone it will still sting as a rebuke, like most “short cut” words. Labels are also short cuts, but it’s easier to drop them when the excuses get long and tedious.
There are still a few negative short-cut names floating around. They are no longer amusing, but they appear useful. Like my own name John. As a child I was tortured by the rhyme “Johnny Pawny”, why that was the choice I was never sure, but the police knew what a John was. He was a sad, sex starved, customer of sexual favors. The women had other labels, but the customer was a John. Somehow it also got applied to the hapless victim, the famous John Doe. Short cuts!
The playground didn’t torment me with the phrase for a toilet. At least that “short cut” I could understand. The first successful wall mounted water flushing toilet was invented by John Crapper. So naturally, when nature calls you went to the John and took a crap, or left a crap load.
Now, how long will the Karen’s of our culture suffer with this label. I dunno. People like their “short cuts”, it doesn’t challenge their thinking, so change comes fairly slowly.
I am reminded that when a young lady was cute, it originally meant “knock-kneed”. It only took about thirty years for the use to change. There is a bit of passion with this “Karen” label, it might take longer.
Perhaps if we act as if we have been asleep, and simply asked the users of the word to explain what they mean in longhand.
It’s a thought.