Defending the Language of the Snowflake Generation


Oohhhh, so you’re half-caste!’ my classmate exclaimed. An awkward muffled laugh escaped my mouth. ‘Uhm haha, I suppose, I’m half black.’ I was on the school bus and had just been asked about my heritage. Funnily enough, fifteen year old me didn't quite know how to reply. Whilst I knew this was not a phrase I felt comfortable being described as, I didn't know how to express it. Half-caste is an outdated term which is rightly considered offensive; generally implying less than pure. Sadly this was not the last time this phrase was used to describe me, and it was most certainly not the last time I experienced people using offensive, outdated terms to describe others.

As we know, language is ever-evolving. Words are constantly being swapped in and out of popular vocabulary. As the most important form of communication and expression, our words are the key to meaning and emotion, making them pretty crucial to our every day functioning. Therefore, it is so important to honour changes in vocabulary, to understand that sometimes, phrases and words that were acceptable five years ago are no longer appropriate. Ultimately times change, and people should make the effort to change along with it, in a bid, at the very least, to stay respectful.

To ignore developments in language is a major show of ignorance. The ability to say whatever you please to whoever you please, likely without ramifications, is a sign of privilege. It indicates that weighted, derogatory words have probably not been thrown your way and have not negatively impacted your life. Choosing not to use respectful language creates a damaging and hostile environment. For example: to deny a trans woman the use of the pronoun ‘her’ is about much more than denying her a word, it is to deny her entire identity. It is not rebellious or anti establishment to use outdated terms and deny somebody's validity, it is pure ignorance. 

Debating language might seem quite trivial to some. Of course there are people who genuinely don’t find phrases offensive, perhaps they think they have bigger fish to fry, but this doesn't mean they should not be considerate to those who do debate language. Correcting language is an activity often associated with hyper-liberal millennials or ‘snowflakes’. The term snowflake meaning young adults who take everything to offence; an often derogatory reference to over sensitive millennials, the type of person that is easily sent into a fit of rage, sending their oat milk flat whites hurtling towards the nearest offender.

The snowflake generation has been under fire recently; with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson allegedly remarking to The Daily Star that the snowflake generation are “putting us backward” (important to note though that he has since adamantly denied these remarks), and the British Army releasing a new set of recruitment posters targeting the snowflake generation, with posters reading, ‘Snowflakes, Your Army Needs You and Your Compassion’ and 'Me Me Me Millennials, Your Army Needs You and Your Self Belief'. It is interesting that both of these examples come from hyper-masculinised sources whilst the snowflake generation is being perpetually berated for its over dramatic, narcissistic and hysterical reactions.

c/o The Ministry of Defence

Personally, I rebuff this negative representation. Of course, a fit of hysteria is not helpful to anyone, but the true aim of 'politically correct' culture is not to 'cause a scene', or catch people out. Again, vocabulary and meanings are constantly evolving; as such, it will take time for people to adjust. Many variables may impact your use of language, such as age (‘they’re from a different generation!), location (the small towns of Devon take a while to catch up!), religion, culture, etc. In the meantime, it is important to show patience. No one is perfect and no one has a spotless repertoire. During the dark days of 2012 I’m pretty sure my Facebook profile contained words and phrases that I would be ashamed to see today. Accidentally using the incorrect word to describe someone doesn't make you a monster, instead it is the arrogant, purposeful use of offensive language or objection to being corrected and educated that is the issue.

From personal experience, most millennials talking about cultural, social and political change are calm people; people who are merely trying to educate others and engage in them in worthwhile conversation. I wonder, why would caring about using the correct pronouns and/or not wanting to offend people be a bad thing to anybody? Respecting an oppressed and/or minority group is something that should be encouraged. Words are the tip of the iceberg in the pursuit of greater social and political change. We need to dismantle this stereotype of 'snowflakes' casting judgement upon those who do not hold exactly the same opinions; the fear of being reprimanded begs to be overcome - it only serves to block understanding and empathy.

On a positive note, it’s important to acknowledge that the times really are changing. Recently, at university, my seminar leader opened the class by announcing, "We are going to go around the class. Could you please say your name, the course you are studying and your preferred pronoun". After a brief exchange of glances, everyone participated in the icebreaker task. Now, perhaps it’s because I went to Goldsmiths, a liberal arts college, but no one protested the seminar tutors request - as they shouldn't have, as promoting inclusivity should not be up for debate.