Magazine July 6, 2020, Issue

‘Scandalize My Name’

Karen Allen (Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
The use and abuse of ‘Karen,’ etc.

Last summer, I sat down to lunch with a young friend and his new girlfriend, Karen. We got on the subject of her name (first and last) — and I learned that “Karen” had become an epithet, a slur.

Boy, has it. It’s all over the social media, certainly Twitter, the social medium I’m most familiar with. People use “Karen” as commonly and casually as they might use “the” or “a.”

A “Karen,” in this understanding, is a white woman, probably middle-aged, who is arrogant, ignorant, and racist. She’s the type to demand to see the manager.

Incidentally, my friend Barbara J. Fields,

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