What does Karen mean?

Karen is a reoccurring slang characterization of an antagonistic woman in memes.

She’s the archetype of the woman, who took custody of the kids, despite being careless and is so entitled, that at the moment of a minor inconvenience in a store, she already wishes to talk to the manager.

She usually has a characteristic haircut, with the hair being shorter in the back than in the front, as well as having strong blond highlights.

The “Karen” meme became so significant that by 2020, it became the synonym for uppity, spawning the meme Male Version of Karen.

Karen Boebert


What's the origin of Karen?

The character of a dangerous and troublesome white woman has been around in African American culture for centuries, with the first version of “Karen” being Miss Ann during the 1800’s.

By the 1990’s, this had already morphed into Becky.

It was around this time, the roots of the “Karen” trope can be uncovered.

One explanation finds the origin of the meme in the 1990 movie Goodfellas, identifying the character Karen Friedman with the mother of all Karens – a proto-Karen.

This, however is not proven and the 2004 motion picture, Mean Girls (known for the scene Get In Loser, We’re Going Shopping) is also cited as the originator of the meme.

Dane Cook also brings up the name “Karen”, depicting the character as a person everyone hates in the friend circle, in one of his 2005 standup comedy routines; The Friend That Nobody Likes.

All in all, the origin of “Karen” is still up to debate, although it is clear, that fussy white women have been around for quite a while.

Spread & Usage

How did Karen spread?

The name started to take off in memes and jokes following the release of the Nintendo Switch trailer, which was shared online in October 2016, in which a woman with a bob haircut is taking her console to a rooftop party.

A joke was immediately posted on Tumblr, saying “Oh shit, Karen brought her stupid Nintendo thing to the party again. We’re DRINKING, Karen. We’re having CONVERSATIONS”.

The character quickly became a fad in the Nintendo community, spawning a large amount of memes on sites like Reddit, and Tumblr, leading to the creation of the r/NintendoKaren sub on October 21st, 2016.

It didn’t take a lot of time for fussy women to be associated with the name “Karen”, leading to the expansion of the meme.

By 2017, the trend grew to such an extent that the subreddit r/FuckYouKaren was launched, serving as the focal point of “Karen” memes otherwise found on sites ranging from Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

Karen” compilations also became a popular trend on YouTube, with videos honing the trope ever since.

Hi Buddy! I'm the DigitalCultures Lab professor. Is there anything else you want to know? I'll answer immediately 🤓

External resources

More interesting stuff