Millennials and snowflakes (Words and phrases for ages and stages)

Lane Oatey / Blue Jean Images / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

This week we’re all about ages and stages as we look at words and phrases that refer either to people of a particular age or to people at a particular stage in their life. Some of these words and phrases have additional meanings and connotations.

Let’s start with the various names that are applied to different generations. A baby-boomer is someone who was born during the baby boom (=large increase in the number of babies) that followed the Second World War. The dates for this generation are approximately 1946 to 1964. The generation that came after (approximately 1965 to 1980) is sometimes referred to as Generation X. The millennials – or Generation Y – are the people who were born in the years between the early 1980s and 2000. (A recent coinage parennial refers to a parent who is a member of the millennial generation.) The generation coming after the millennials is sometimes called Generation Z (informally Gen Z). These are people born between approximately 1995 and 2005. People from this generation have sometimes been called linksters, reflecting the fact that they have been linked into technology all – or most – of their lives.

Two related phrases with age implications are digital native and digital immigrant. A digital native is a person who grew up using digital technology, computers, etc. and is therefore very familiar with them. In contrast, the older digital immigrant grew up in an era without digital technology and has had to learn how to use it as an adult.

The adjective silver continues to be used in phrases that refer to older people. The phrase silver surfer was coined a few years ago to refer to an older person who uses the Internet. More recently the term silver separator was heard in the media, referring to an older person who was getting divorced.

Let’s end with a recent (and controversial) addition to the English language – the term ‘snowflake’. Snowflake is sometimes used as an insulting way of referring to a young person who is easily upset or offended, especially by opinions which are different from their own. People who use this term give safe spaces and trigger warnings as evidence of the snowflake generation, (or generation snowflake). Understandably, a great many people – young and old – have objected to the term.

15 thoughts on “Millennials and snowflakes (Words and phrases for ages and stages)

  1. Maryem Salama

    very beautiful, but my best about age is this, which I borrowed from Cambridge dictionary page ” my 50 plus years haven’t dulled my pluck. thank you, Kate and pardon me if I am out of the context.

  2. ReAm

    digital native really should be portrayed as the insult it really is.

    A person who grew up using pencils does not by extension have good hand writing, nor good drawing skills; but the implication of pencil native is that there is some level of understanding that non-natives wouldn’t have. The same goes for silver surfer, these are words whose intent is to stereotype and hence should be reflected as such.

    Honestly, I find that many people have little to no understanding of how modern technology works without resorting to looking it up online. Knowledge and skills get lost when people assume older technology is not useful anymore; even though technological growth is inherently iterative and requires a strong base foundation before dumbing down the technology for the masses.

    I’ve had people hand Gen-Z kids Gameboys and watch as something that Gen-Y kids picked up rapidly, Gen-Z kids were horribly confused about how to use.

    Call me a snowflake if you will, but dividing words serve only to create division and further extremist thinking, spread hatred, and create an unpleasant word for us all. Popularizing them is ill advised.

    1. Ang

      I don’t know any children not being taught to use a pencil and paper, and my kids can figure out any piece of technology with ease. Whereas at 39, I’m getting cranky when they change my software – that being less about my ability to figure it out and more about my impatience.

  3. Philip Schmidt

    If they werent such snowflakes they wouldnt be so offended by the term.
    Unfortunately for them ‘telling the teacher’ wont solve the problem for them..

    Dont wanna be a snowflake, grow up and take responsibility for yourselves..

    Does my opinion offend you?

    1. T.B. Told

      Truth is singular and it will always offend those who believe their individual, personal truth or selfish perception takes precedence over others or even truthful, factual reality. So don’t be a “Chuckie Henderson” (the new description of an entitlement mentality sociopath with psychotic tendencies)

  4. Maryem Salama

    I have two children I can call them generation Z, but what can I call their other two siblings who were born in 2006 and 2008? Thank you in advance, my dear Kate

  5. Human beings are complete phenom and trying to use one word to express a complex situation or thought makes the situation worst. Please do not let American colloquial English, because it my appear simpler, drive a peg in the British English language. Dr Johnson for instance might not have been accepted by today’s generation. It is a great thing to improve the language so as to broaden knowledge of other peoples way of life but the living diversity of the English language must never disappear in the cause of over simplicity.

  6. Bikash Kumar sahoo

    Excuse me plz I request you to I don’t have understanding your thinking… I request u to plz u give a solution…

  7. Steve Clark

    I have walked this planet for close to 7 decades. I learned early on that the current youngest generation is never up to par. Older generations always feel that the generation in that position just doesn’t measure up. The second thing I have learned that there is no way any group of people can be described as in a few words. Trying to do so is counterproductive because you learn nothing about the members of the group and you falsely attribute qualities and attributes to individuals who are vastly different.

  8. Steve Clark

    I am a silver surfer, by age and appearance. I spent close to 40 years working in technology, including teaching data base design on the university level and being the chief information officer for a dot com company. You cannot judge people by their age, we have all had different experiences and lives.

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