Two words have launched a thousand tweets and opened a new front in the generational wars.

Feeling completely clueless? OK, boomer.

The New York Times and NBC News last week picked up a trend from high-school halls and teens' TikTok accounts and deposited it in the national news. The Gen Z-generated phrase "OK, boomer" has turned into an epithet rallying the country's young against their forebears in collective mockery. The all-purpose reply is designed to disarm oldish people who dispense condescension dressed up as wisdom.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick found herself riding the wave of media interest in the jibe after she dropped it into a speech in the House earlier this week, earning brickbats and bouquets on social media and hitting the headlines across the world.

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The exchange was first revealed by Herald reporter Jason Walls and media from across the world picked up on the 25-year-old's cheeky use of the phrase, with outlets such as USA Today, Time Magazine, The Guardian and The Independent sharing the story.

Swarbrick herself acknowledged that not all her feedback was positive, taking to Facebook to say: "Today I have learnt that responding succinctly and in perfect jest to somebody heckling you about *your age* as you speak about the impact of climate change on *your generation* with the literal title of their generation makes some people very mad."

"So I guess millennials ruined humour. That, or we just need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and abstain from avocados."

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The mainstreaming of the meme made boomers mad - which basically proves Gen Z's point. Conservative radio personality Bob Lonsberry took to the Web on Monday to not-so-patiently explain that "being hip and flip" does not excuse "bigotry," and that "boomer" is in fact "the n-word of ageism."

OK, boomer.

Then there's Gen X, dubbed by the media at various intervals as baby busters and 20-nothings. The names all imply a depressing sort of emptiness. So it's fitting that some in Gen Z seem to have forgotten that this in-between cohort exists at all and instead is lumping them in with the rest of the (relatively) elderly. Gen X is helping out by lumping themselves in with the boomers, and against those ungrateful kids.

Millennials have allied with Gen Z, and managed to vitiate the meme in the process by, basically, overdoing it. "OK, boomer" was fun and funny, so we said it about a million times on Twitter in the space of one day, and now it has become unfunny and lame. That's appropriate, too, for a generation that supposedly kills every good thing.

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Parliament TV struggled to keep with Swarbrick's use of the hip phrase. Photo / Parliament TV
Parliament TV struggled to keep with Swarbrick's use of the hip phrase. Photo / Parliament TV

It makes sense that millennials are taking up arms with our Gen Z comrades - because we're the ones who have been maligned the most for the sin of our birth years. Gadgetry has stripped us of the capacity for meaningful human connection, or so the argument from self-help gurus, newspaper columnists and U.S. senators goes. The losers among us are basement-dwellers; the cool ones are profligates who refuse to contemplate the future. Blah, blah, avocado toast.

"OK, boomer" is appealing because, on the simplest level, it flips the script. Old people have been telling young people for years that they don't get it because they just haven't had the chance to learn. Now, young people have developed a cryptic code for telling old people that they're the ones who don't get it, and that failure is all the more flagrant because they have had countless chances to learn.

But the flipping is craftier than just that. What's important isn't that the kids are fighting back. It's that the kids are fighting back without really fighting at all. "OK, boomer" indicts not an argument and not an individual but an entire generation, or an entire generation's attitude - and it does it with two words dripping with dismissal. The Gen Z progenitors of this insolent slogan say they use it because they're inheriting a collapsing climate, an unequal economy and endless battles overseas that they didn't start. They're saying a lot with very little, and by saying very little they end up saying even more.

"OK, boomer" sends the message that the grown-ups have screwed up so totally, and are veering so speedily into irrelevance, that convincing them of anything is a waste of keyboard characters.

-Additional reporting, NZ Herald