snowflake

[ snoh-fleyk ]
/ ˈsnoʊˌfleɪk /

noun

one of the small, feathery masses or flakes in which snow falls.
Facetious Slang. a person who is considered unique and deserving of special treatment: I have twenty-eight special snowflakes in my classroom, and their parents’ demands make teaching impossible!
Slang. a person who is easily offended, overly sensitive, or emotionally fragile: You snowflakes need to leave your safe spaces and engage with people who disagree with your beliefs.
Meteorology.
  1. an agglomeration of snow crystals falling as a unit.
  2. any snow particle.
any of certain European plants belonging to the genus Leucojum, of the amaryllis family, resembling the snowdrop.

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Origin of snowflake

First recorded in 1725–35; snow + flake1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What else does snowflake mean?

No, we’re not walking in a winter wonderland. Snowflake, here, is a political insult for someone who is perceived as too sensitive, often used for millennials and liberals.

Where did the term snowflake come from?

The contemporary insult snowflake was popularized by the 1996 novel and 1999 film adaptation Fight Club, which tells the story’s wannabe fighters: “You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.”

Fight Club’s snowflake, though, isn’t its earliest instance as an insult. During the Civil War in Missouri, pro-slavery advocates were called snowflakes for valuing white people over Black people. (That’s a diss we can get behind.) Over a century later in the 1970s, Black people who were seen as acting too white were mocked as snowflakes. The idea, here, is whiteness—like snow. Fight Club, nevertheless, did help to spread snowflake as a contemporary insult online in the 2000s to tease sheltered, helicopter-parented, everyone-gets-a-trophy young adults. The core metaphor is that such people are delicate like snowflakes, easily hurt by the hard realities of life, and think of themselves as special without realizing they are entitled and privileged— because every snowflake is different, as they say.

The term snowflake generation, or generation snowflake, emerged after a prominent 2015 dispute between the Yale University administration and students, who were upset by culturally appropriative Halloween costumes. Snowflake generation insulted the students as too politically correct, too easily offended, too soft in their demands for safe spaces, trigger warnings, preferred pronouns, and social justice. In 2016, snowflake became much more politicized and more malicious. After the polarizing decision of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the alt-right especially adopted snowflake to insult the political left who were upset by the events and concerned about rising nationalism and bigotry. Liberals, though, have thrown snowflake right back at them, with comedians like Neal Brennan and political commentator Van Jones calling Donald Trump a snowflake for his thin skin.

How to use the term snowflake

Truer to its Fight Club origins, snowflake is often used by “back in my day” folks to criticize millennials and Generation Z for being coddled, whiny, and in need of kid-gloves treatment.

Since 2016, snowflake has become a go-to insult among Trump supports to attack the left. Others have lobbed snowflake right back at them to call out their hypocrisy. Some on the left have worked to embrace snowflake. Actor and activist George Takei of Star Trek fame observed that, en masse, snowflakes can form an “avalanche” of political change:

Actress and activist Pauly Perrette similarly reclaimed snowflake, using the hashtag “#IAmSnowflake” to show support for social justice.

More examples of snowflake:

“Weak Internet Man Calls Arnold Schwarzenegger a “Snowflake,” Gets Blasted By Mr. Freeze Joke”
—Brett Williams, Men’s Health (headline), June 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for snowflake

British Dictionary definitions for snowflake

snowflake
/ (ˈsnəʊˌfleɪk) /

noun

one of the mass of small thin delicate arrangements of ice crystals that fall as snow
any of various European amaryllidaceous plants of the genus Leucojum, such as L. vernum (spring snowflake), that have white nodding bell-shaped flowers
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012