‘Karen,’ ‘Dick,’ and Other Names That Come In for Abuse

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Portrait of John Jay (detail) by Gilbert Stuart, 1794 (National Gallery of Art via Wikimedia)

In the current issue of the magazine, we have a piece called “‘Scandalize My Name’: The use and abuse of ‘Karen,’ etc.” The piece appeared here on NRO yesterday. To read it, go here. I thought I would share a little mail . . .

The name “Karen,” I say in my piece,

is 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.

I heard from a friend of mine in Chicagoland, who writes,

In the largely white western suburbs of Chicago, “Karen” is this super-progressive Nanny State tattletale. There is zero connotation of racism or rightwingery to a Karen. In fact, a Karen would be very angry with anyone who expressed a hint of racist sentiment.

Karen calls the cops when you aren’t wearing a mask. Karen calls the cops on your gathering of twelve, even if everyone is maintaining decent social distance.

Either way, the name “Karen” gets it in the chin.

In my piece, I also take up the subject of Dicks, past and present. The first vote I ever cast was for Dick Headlee, in Michigan. New Hampshire had a congressman named “Dick Swett.” Etc.

A reader says to me, “How could you forget Dick Trickle, the NASCAR driver?”

Good question.

Have you ever heard the expression “OBE”? It means “overtaken by events” and is used in politics. Well, in a sense, my piece was OBE, immediately.

I wrote,

“Jemima” will never be free of its association, I’m afraid (though “never” is a long time). The only Jemima in America, as far as I know, is Aunt Jemima, the (racially) problematic symbol of a pancake brand.

A few days after I wrote my piece, there was this news:

The Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancake mix will get a new name and image, Quaker Oats announced Wednesday, saying the company recognizes that “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.”

“Jemima” is a beautiful name — isn’t it? — meaning “dove” in Hebrew. Job gets three new daughters (along with seven new sons), the first of whom is “Jemima.” “And in all the land were no women found so fair . . .”

One more thing before I go — and another excerpt from my piece:

On Twitter, I deplored the appropriation of “Karen” as a slur, and the blowback was fierce. I was clueless, said my critics, coming from a “place of privilege.” I was racist. Several critics tried a lighter touch, saying, “Do you want to see the manager?”

And, as always, there was “Nerdlinger.”

I’m fairly safe with “Jay,” but my critics, of all political stripes and none, routinely deliver “Nerdlinger.” They do it as though no one had ever thought of it before.

Richard Brookhiser, our historian-colleague, wrote to say, Not so fast. You may not be safe with “Jay” either. When John Jay fashioned his treaty, in 1795, many Americans were none too pleased. Some expressed their displeasure in toasts — one of which went, “Perpetual harvest to America, but clipt wings, lame legs, the pip, and an empty crop to all jays.” (The pip was, and is, a bird disease.)

Nice!





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