Depending on your age, you may find the phrase “OK, Boomer” humorous or infuriating.
To put it succinctly, the retort was made popular on social media late last year by members of Generation Z and millennials, as a way to condescendingly respond to members of older generations who are dismissive of them in some way or who they blame for many of the world’s current ills.
Folks in the English department at Lake Superior State University quickly tired of the phrase, adding it to the 45th annual “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness” as 2019 became 2020.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t get the memo. He uttered the words earlier this month while hearing arguments in an age discrimination case involving a federal employee, asking whether it would be “actionable” if a hiring manager said, “OK, Boomer” to an older job applicant.
Before Roberts’ remark, the National Law Review weighed in on the topic, advising people to avoid using the phrase in the workplace because those over age 40 (and baby boomers are aged 55 to 74) are in a protected category under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act as well as some state laws. “Whether the speaker is well-intentioned or not, dismissive attitudes about older workers could form the basis of claims for discrimination and/or harassment,” the publication noted.
Employers, the publication suggested, “should take heed and consider reminding their workforce about the impropriety of this and other age-related phrases, and train their employees to leave the generation wars at the door.”
There are many reasons beyond legal ones to treat colleagues as individuals anyway.