Year in a Word: Snowflake

Miranda Green:


(Noun) A derogatory term for someone deemed too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own, particularly in universities and other forums once known for robust debate

The riotous parties and occasional deep thought that were traditionally part of student life have, according to those who throw the insult “snowflake” at an entire generation, given way to whingeing about points of view deemed offensive.

Where once students might have placed a pilfered traffic cone over the head of a historical statue, they now campaign to excise the names of founders and benefactors from their institutions and to disinvite lecturers on contentious subjects.

The censorious trend prompted pungent attacks on oversensitive millennials. This, by the novelist Bret Easton Ellis, catches the flavour: “Oh, little snowflakes, when did you all become grandmothers and society matrons, clutching your pearls in horror at someone who has an opinion about something . . . you snivelling little weak-ass narcissists?”

Like all powerful weapons, calling someone a snowflake has been adapted for general use. It is even co-opted by the other side. President-elect Donald Trump was called “the most special snowflake of them all” for protesting that the theatre should be a “safe place” after his running mate Mike Pence was booed at the musical Hamilton.