These days, calling someone a Karen – unless their name is actually Karen – can be fighting words.
As is often the case with slang terms, the actual meaning of calling someone a Karen can be a little fuzzy. It’s generally used as a term for a middle-class white woman who is being demanding, rude, and leveraging societal privilege to control the behaviors of others.
In fact, The Guardian newspaper even dubbed 2020 the year of Karen.
Given that it’s a term most commonly used for women of a certain age, class, and race, it’s difficult to separate the idea of a Karen up from some unfortunate stereotypes. The truth is, anyone can be a Karen, in the sense that we can all be overly demanding, rude, and abrasive.
And sometimes, the language a person uses can be the best clue that they’re getting dangerously close to Karen territory.
Watch out for these phrases that can tell you that someone – maybe even you – is being a bit of a Karen. Because it may be time to alter your behavior before you find yourself demanding the manager.
1) This is unacceptable
It’s when a person doesn’t get what they want that their inner Karen is likely to come out. That’s why this is a phrase you often hear coming from a Karen.
Karens love to complain. Whether it’s at the coffee shop, at a restaurant, or in line at the DMV, Karen won’t hesitate to tell people what she will and won’t accept. She will often be loud, obnoxious, and condescending about it, too.
Now, it’s important to point out here something you should keep in mind while reading this article: sometimes, things really are unacceptable. We’ve all had bad service, and when that happens, it’s okay to complain.
The key to not being a Karen is to make your point politely and be understanding of the people you are talking to and the challenges they face. You can be assertive without being rude. You can be firm without being demanding.
Sometimes, the way we are treated really is unacceptable, and when that happens, it’s okay to say so. It’s not complaining that makes you a Karen so much as it is the way you complain and the way you weaponize your offence to try and make it a bigger issue.
2) I want to speak to a manager
This is probably the most famous phrase of a Karen. It’s the quintessential term that has sparked a million memes about demanding and unreasonable Karens.
The idea is that when a Karen can’t get what they want by complaining to a poorly paid member of staff, they will demand to speak to a manager. And when that manager doesn’t give them what they want, she will want to speak to their manager, too.
Of course, is true that sometimes bad service can only be resolved by a senior member of staff. But if you often find yourself demanding to speak the manager, consider the possibility that you have the inflated sense of importance that is one of the key characteristics of a Karen.
3) Do you know who I am?
This is such a cringey phrase, no matter who uses it. Even if you really are somebody famous and accomplished, saying this is bound to make everyone who hears it think badly of you.
Part of what makes a Karen so obnoxious is that they leverage any privilege they have to get what they want. That means they won’t hesitate to draw attention to any kind of higher status they think they have.
Maybe they have an important job. Maybe they are rich, or married to somebody rich. The irony is, people who use this phrase are usually the people most insecure about their own importance in the world.
There’s really never a good reason to say this. It comes from an assumption that a person who has more money or more accomplishments than somebody else should be treated better in life, which is a horribly elitist viewpoint to have.
So if you hear someone saying this, chances are good you are dealing with a true Karen.
4) I’m going to write a bad review
These days, we are all asked for our opinion on any service we received. It’s never been easier to hop online and give a review, good or bad, for shops, restaurants, and other businesses.
And as someone who has run a small business myself, I know just how powerful these reviews can be.
The problem is, the vast majority of people never leave a review. Usually, it’s only a small subset of customers who will take the time to share their experience. And people are more likely to share their experience if it was bad, meaning that reviews often skew more negative than they really should.
Let me point out again that if you do receive bad service at a business, you are well within your rights to leave a negative review. What makes this Karen behavior is weaponizing the threat of a bad review to get special treatment.
5) I’m going to sue you
This is the next level of threat for a Karen. If they don’t get what they want, a Karen will often threaten legal action.
This is especially prevalent in the United States, where lawsuits are more common and easier to launch for fairly trivial reasons.
However, the threat of legal action is a popular tool for entitled people around the world to try and scare others around them into giving them what they want.
6) I’m going to call the cops
Even worse, Karens will threaten to call the police.
In fact, this can often lead to almost comical situations where they threaten to get law enforcement involved in situations that are clearly nothing to do with the police.
However, this can also take a dark turn in situations like the Central Park birdwatching incident, when a white woman used the threat of calling the police on a black man, fully aware of the strained history African-Americans have with the police.
7) I have rights
Yes, Karen, you do.
But waving your rights around like a club to beat other people with its classic Karen behavior.
Plus, it’s often the people are most ready to use their rights in this way that have the loosest understanding of where, when, and how those rights apply.
For instance, these are the people you will find insisting on constitutional rights when they are traveling outside of America where the U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply.
Or they will invoke their First Amendment right to free speech in situations where it is completely inappropriate.
(Bonus tip: remember that the First Amendment right to free speech protects you from the government taking action to silence you. It doesn’t give you a right to, for example, use social media to say whatever hateful, discriminatory, or just plain wrong things pop into your head.)
8) Do you know how much money I’ve spent?
This is another way Karens try to boost their status. They will quickly point out how much money they have spent at a business, with the insinuation that this should entitle them to better treatment.
In fact, it’s exactly that entitlement that makes Karens so hated these days.
9) I saw it on Facebook
This is a classic Karen line, thanks in part to the audience demographics of Facebook users, which skews more female and older than many other social media apps.
The problem is, many people get their information from Facebook, a notoriously unreliable source of news. This was especially noticeable during the Covid pandemic, when many people used false information they got online to argue against necessary health laws.
Karens only hear what they want to hear. And they will often use something totally false, believing it to be true because it fits their own agenda.
10) You work for me
Even when this is technically true, it’s not something people like to hear.
And when Karens use this term against people just trying to do their job, it’s another sign of an attempt to make life harder for everyone around them.
Karens use this term to try and put themselves in a place of higher status versus those they are talking to. And often, this quest for status lies at the root of a lot of Karen behavior.
11) You ruined my kids’ day
As you can tell if you’ve read this far, Karens love to weaponize just about anything to get what they want. And often, they will happily use their kids.
Complaining about the effect it has on their children to not get what they want is a form of emotional manipulation that Karens engage in far too often. They will happily make their kids’ happiness everybody else’s problem if they think it will get them what they want.
Anyone can be a Karen
Although the term has connotations for a particular gender, race, and class, anyone is capable of acting entitled and rude.
So keep an eye out for these phrases and the people who regularly use them. Because often, these phrases can show you’re dealing with a true Karen.