On the radar: broflake
What is a ‘broflake’? You may have heard this term bandied around the blogosphere and, increasingly, the online news sites, but what does it mean and where did it come from? Let’s start at the very beginning…
In much of the UK, snow is something of a unique phenomenon, but it is the single snowflake out of all weather phenomena that has come to be most strongly associated with the quality of being special. This comes from the idea that each snowflake, if inspected closely, will reveal itself to be one-of-a-kind.
Over time, a new sense of the word snowflake has drifted out of this association with uniqueness, and much like snow itself when it reaches the ground, its meaning hasn’t stayed pristine. Though the quality of being unique is generally considered a positive thing, this new sense of snowflake is used as an insult to dismiss someone who considers themselves to be worthy of special treatment without earning it. Such people are typically characterized as ‘overly sensitive or easily offended’.
This sense of snowflake was added to our new word tracking database in 2015 in the compound special snowflake, and was added to our free online dictionary earlier this year. The author Chad Palahniuk is believed to have been the originator of this use of snowflake as an insult in his book Fight Club.
But the story doesn’t end there…
Back in 2013, we explored the many portmanbros arising from the increasingly productive word bro used in humorous new coinages. Some of these – like bromance, bro hug, and brogrammer – are well established, and warrant inclusion in our dictionaries, while others fell by the wayside.
Now, we are seeing a brand new portmanbro: hot on the heels of snowflake as an insult, we have broflake. Much like brogrammer and other bro– words, the bro in broflake not only denotes that it is a man being described by the word, but also implies that he is a particularly macho man. A broflake, like a snowflake, is considered to be overly sensitive or easily offended, so the use of bro – while obviously chosen for phonetic reason – also lends a sense of irony to the term. In particular, the term broflake seems to be associated with those who are upset by aspects of social reform associated with liberalism.
Urban Dictionary has an entry for broflake dating back to 2010, but with an entirely different meaning: this is a simple compound of bro and flake, with flake here being used in an informal way to mean ‘fail to follow through on a commitment’. The top definition on Urban Dictionary for this sense of broflake is ‘one who flakes on a non-bro, in favor of a bro activity’. Up to this point, this sense of broflake was not used widely enough to imply a lasting place in the English lexicon. However, recent high profile uses of the term referring to overly sensitive men has drawn public attention and could result in increased frequency and use across wider English-speaking communities.
The Urban Dictionary entry for broflake added a definition covering overly sensitive men in early 2017, and we have noted this usage in Oxford Dictionaries’ new words tracking database as one to watch – much like the new sense of flake described above was added in 2014. We will continue to monitor their usage; flake has a head start, but only time will tell if flake or broflake will become established enough to be noted in our dictionaries.