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There’s A Very Real Reason The Phrase ‘As A Millennial’ Fills Us With Contempt

Laurie Simmons and Lena Dunham at the Maryland Film Festival. Alison Harbaugh/MFF.

Word for word, ‘as a millennial’ might seem as innocuous a sentence-starter as any. Playful, maybe. No harm in it. That just makes it worse.


“As a millennial.” Word for word, “as a millennial” might seem as innocuous a sentence-starter as any. Playful, maybe. No harm in it. Just a little slap and tickle, like when a beloved parent switches his email font to blue Comic Sans on a whim. Or when children commune with the dead through a Ouija board. “We like to have fun here.”

If, however, any of the three situations above blind your eyes, filling your head with white, cascading rage, it is merely an indication you are still sane. Because while these might seem innocuous to some, you — you — know there is real power in every one of them. Or if not in your brain, you feel it in your heart. Because you there, wizened by the years, hardened by their passing, know what comes after.

Some of these are more serious than others. It’s a tough one, for example, when Uncle John sneaks the kids a dead-conjuring board game he picked up at the toy store. Life fills with decisions you never thought you’d have to make.

What will I cook for dinner when the priest comes to cleanse my home of evil spirits? How do I educate my children on the wickedness of their games without giving them any ideas about untapped dark powers next time I ground them? Should I burn my brother in law at the stake, expel him from the village, or simply beat him with reeds?

Likewise, we’re faced with decisions when we get that first email in blue Comic Sans. All options are thrust into consideration. Will my parents have to move in with me? Will my spouse handle it well? Or would they rather live in a nursing-staffed retirement community? Can our family afford that? How long do we have after the first happy blue font missive before his mind is a soft, soggy sponge?

“As a millennial” is not dissimilar in its warning call. A reader who sees it in an essay knows: read no further. The listener also knows something terrible is coming, as surely as if she’d heard the banshee wail. What often follows is a string of poorly chosen words; what always follows is one or more ill-informed opinions.

Unlike, say, “as senator,” “as commander,” or some other such opener, “as a millennial” carries no authority in its words. Amazingly, it manages to assure an actual lack of authority. While even boomers, named for the incredible amount of sex their parents had after coming home with the country’s second World Championship pennant, have at least the feats of their parents to explain their label, millennials, Gen X’rs, and that Gen Z guy are just Pepsi-commercial labels with arbitrary dates attached.

This isn’t to say there aren’t uses for millennial. Like shipwrecks visible on rocks just beneath the surface of the waves, the pronouncement serves as a warning to travelers: death and stupid lie yonder. And of course “millennial” serves as an admirable “get off my lawn” version of “boomer.”

If you feel a twinge of guilt after learning these things; if you might have uttered the phrase or even committed it to the eternal ether that is internet, do not despair. If self-importance or stupid were unpardonable sins, we’d all be hell-bound. But do stop now.