This is why the “Ok Boomer” phrase was born and what to do about it

Earlier this month, in November 2019, the Millennials came up with a phrase that has gone viral.

It is the latest addition to the Millennial lingo and is being used to shut down not just Baby Boomers, but Gen Xers as well. In this article, we explore what brought this phrase to life and what you can do about it, being on the receiving end

The Backstory

‘Ok Boomer’ is a catchphrase, an internet meme and a somewhat age-based discrimination that has gained popularity among the youths and is being used to mock attitudes attributed to the Baby Boomer generation. 

It recently gained popularity when Chloe Swabrick, a New Zealand MP, retorted with “Ok Boomer” to a heckler during her speech in parliament, and the video went viral. 

See video below

Confirming the Generation Gap

What’s interesting is that more than the message Chloe was expounding on, people caught on to the catchphrase. Which brings us to question, why was this given so much attention in the first place? 

On one end are the Boomers who find this phrase offensive and ageist. Which is a natural reaction. On the other end are the Millennials and Zoomers (Gen Z) who find it amusing yet appropriate. 

The catchphrase has become something that they can relate to. That means, across the board, these youths have experienced instances where they could use this phrase. That across a diverse set of individuals, they have experienced common feelings that seems to validate the use of “Ok Boomer”.

So what exactly does this phrase communicate, and when do they use it?

The “Ok Boomer” is a retort towards Boomers, or others in authority who feel like they know better than the younger ones because of their age and experience. It is used specifically towards Baby Boomers, or people in authority when they find that the conversation isn’t making progress. 

It’s kinda like a catchphrase that sums up a feeling of, “ I’ve given up explaining things to you. There is no point” with a hint of agitation included. It is typically used by younger people who say they’re sick and tired of being dismissed for their age when trying to speak up to older generations. 

Millennial and Gen Z use it as a jab to the older generations as a collective eye-roll at the out-of-touch judgements Baby Boomers pass on the tastes, values and lived experiences of Millennials and Gen Zers. It is a reaction to years of scrutiny from the older generations. So they use it when they find themselves in a conversation that contains unsolicited advice which may have lost its relevance. It is also used a retort to end the conversation.

Now, Baby Boomers and others involved in this may feel that this is an ageist slur. While there is truth to that statement, it is also true that older people have been constantly attacking young people. The word Millennial has become a derogatory term on its own.  

What it means if you have that phrase being used on you

The key is to understand the intention. If someone is using that phrase against you, that’s feedback. Feedback from the person of the following things

  1. They confirm a generational gap between you and them
  2. They have exhausted all their resources in explaining things to you or have felt that doing so would be a complete waste of time and effort
  3. They don’t feel understood by you and more importantly, you have not been actively listening to them

Time for some active listening

More often than not, the ‘Ok Boomer’ phrase will be used online than offline. It will be a rare occurrence where a Gen Z or Millennial does a direct retort in person..unless they are really frustrated or really close with you, like a family member

What we can observe is that this phrase is being used as an internal joke or a meme amongst the younger generations but rarely in conversation. Which is why the video from Chloe Swarbrick went viral – no one was expecting that. And the context here is vital – she was being heckled so it was the perfect response in the perfect situation.

But in the rare chance that someone uses it against you, here’s what you need to do: LISTEN ACTIVELY

1. Make a decision – Relationship or Retort?

What you make out of this retort depends on who uses it on you. If it’s a stranger or a heckler that you don’t really value the relationship with, ignore it. It’s not worth the time. Moving on is the classy thing to do.

Based on the relationship, you have a choice to make. Ignore it, or accept it as feedback. As a person in some form of Leadership position, you have the responsibility to dig deeper in such situations. If this is your child, or someone on your working team who has expressed their frustrations through this phrase, make a decision to put your emotions aside and lean in to what they are saying. 

2. Start asking questions – first to yourself, then to them

Ask meaningful questions. Questions that help you understand the context. Questions that will guide you towards the next steps. Questions that will tell you what you need to do to improve the relationship with each other. If you’re stuck, start with the 5 wives and 1 Husband 

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • How

3. Step into their shoes 

The “Ok Boomer” phrase has popped up and gained popularity because there has been a lack of empathy between the generations. If both generations really took the time to sit down and actively listen to one another, this phrase wouldn’t have taken birth. So it is vital to take the time to look at things from their perspective as you get into a conversation with them about it. 

4. Start a Dialogue and have an ongoing conversation

Have an open conversation with them, and leave all judgements out at the door. This is a conversation where you need to be taking notes and asking yourself these questions

Is there any truth to the points they make?
If so, how does it differ from your perspective?
What led to the difference?
What needs to change for us to understand each other better?
What needs to change for us to work better together?

If you are in a position where you care about the relationship more than the retort, taking these actions to lean in and listen to what they are really saying will make a difference in your life and theirs.

In a world where suicide rates are increasing from the younger generations, it helps to have individuals who care enough to listen, and listen well. 

There are specific techniques we use in our Leadership courses that allow Leaders to step into each others’ shoes and look at the same event from different vantage points. This helps them build up their empathy which makes a huge difference in the way they approach the conversation

The phrase is only as powerful as you allow it to be

There’s a saying that I learnt in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) – a course to understand the power of language over our lives – 

Event + Reaction = Outcome

In other words, despite the events that may be happening around the world, we have the choice and capabilities to choose how we want to respond to such situations. And the response we choose will play a vital role to the eventual outcome. 

So Keep Calm and Choose Wisely.

Did you enjoy this article? 

Then share it with a ‘Boomer’ or anyone who has been hit and hurt with this phrase so that they can take the necessary steps to make this world a better place. 

About the author

VIVEK IYYANI is a Millennial & Gen Z specialist and Professional Speaker at Millennial Minds Pte Ltd. He is an award-winning author of 4 books, namely "Empowering Millennials", "Engaging Millennials", "The Millennial Leader" and "Marketing to Millennials". He has spoken at organisations like Brunei Government, Paypal, Oracle,, Singapore General Hospital, and many more. He has been featured by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to feature in a video of #MySingaporeStory. He has also appeared on CNBC and Channel NewsAsia as a guest on the Gen Z topic. Vivek is known in his industry to speak at conferences on topics around Generational Diversity.


Communication, Leadership, Millennials

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