Words We're Watching: 'Zoomer'
What to Know
Zoomer is a nickname referring to members of Generation Z, those born in the late 90s and early 2000s. Its use is particularly popular as a contrast to baby boomer or boomer, but before Gen Z was established, zoomer was used to refer to especially active baby boomers.
Imagine with us, if you will, a world in which people eschewed generational categories altogether. Headlines and think pieces would blink blankly in the empty spot formerly filled by the terms baby boomer and millennial; marketing departments would cast about in the gray fog that lacked Gen Z; a group of people no one refers to much anyway would continue to go unreferred to; people who'd been alive for different lengths of time would shake their fists at one another with only a vague sense of what distinguished them. And we at Merriam-Webster would not be watching the word zoomer nearly as closely.
But that is not the world we live in. And zoomer is indeed a word we are watching closely.
What Is a 'Zoomer'?
A zoomer is, in the newest use of the word, a member of Generation Z, the generation of people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
OK, zoomers: Here is your trigger warning. What was the name of Roy Rogers' horse? The answer is Trigger. You were warned…. If you're wondering who zoomers are, they make up Generation Z, and have barely made it out of puberty.
— Sarah Weihert, The Lake Mills (Wisconsin) Leader 6 Jan. 2020
When economists predicted another incoming recession earlier this year, millennials and zoomers joked that they were ready because they had nothing to lose in the first place.
— Morgan Sung, Mashable, 24 Dec. 2019
Hug a Boomer/Xer/Millennial/Zoomer >In case you missed it: Gen Z is mad at boomers for the state of the world; boomers are mad at Gen Z for being so dismissive; Gen X feels forgotten and yet resents even themselves; and, not making anything much better, is the fact that five generations are currently coexisting in the workplace. May we recommend our 2018 piece on intergenerational friendship?
— Anya Strzemien, The New York Times, 29 Dec. 2019
The use goes back at least as far as 2016:
HNTB leaders contributing to the symposium agenda included presentations by … project architect Jennie Santoro on "Boomers to Zoomers: Passing the Torch to Generation Z!"
— press release, 16 Mar. 2016
Earliest Use: Zoomers Before Gen Z
It's all very well and good—zoomer contrasts nicely with boomer, and it rolls off the tongue better than Gen Zer—but long before zoomer referred to members of Generation Z, the word had another generation-related job in the language:
At the Gateway store in San Diego, for example, the simple lettering and broad, inviting glass doors mimic Apples' chic and welcoming retail posture. The target here, however, isn't so much technology enthusiasts as budget-conscious families and "zoomers,"—empty-nesters with disposable incomes—with relatively little technological savvy.
— Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, 10 Nov. 2003
Here are a few of the top features I suggest for today's older but still active boomers—so-called "zoomers"—who want to be able to age in place.
— Mary Jo Peterson, This Old House, March 2007
That's right: before zoomer referred to someone born in the late 1990s or early 2000s, it referred to an especially active baby boomer. The word is also the name of a Canadian media company—publisher of Zoomer Magazine—that serves these zoomers.
The use has never been common enough to qualify for entry in our dictionaries, but it is still in current enough that Urban Dictionary includes the following entry:
Contrary to some other definitions here, "zoomer" does NOT refer to Generation Z. It's the evolution of the term "boomer," for whom lifestyles and values are completely different from the late '50s and '60s. Whereas this generation previously aged in a sedentary context, they are now vibrant, active, busy—and not set to retire at 65 as in days of yore. They in essence "zoom" now, so this is the term applied to them. It has nothing to do with the static, lethargic, vapid lifestyles of Generation Z. Zoomers in their 50s, 60s and 70s are much more active in the gym these days. — Vocabulary Victory, 25 Mar. 2019
(Meanwhile the oldest definition in Urban Dictionary for the Generation Z sense of zoomer dates to November 2017.)
Other Uses of 'Zoomer'
Zoomer has also over the years had various other meanings completely unrelated to generational categories. Green's Dictionary of Slang reports that the word is used to refer to the female breast. (It's a shortening and alteration of bazoom.) According to our files, zoomer is also a slang term for a mushroom eaten for its psychotropic qualities. Back in the early 1990s, zoomer was also prominent in the name of a personal digital assistant, or PDA, as handheld computers were known back then. And the PBS show "Zoom," which had two iterations, one that ran from 1972-1978 and another that ran from 1999-2005, featured a varying cast of kids each season, all of whom were called "ZOOMers," or often "zoomers."
None of these conflict with the boomer meaning of zoomer, however, in the way that the Gen Z meaning does.
So what does it all mean for the English language, and for the particular word itself? Only time will tell if either generational use of zoomer becomes fully established. But perhaps if the boomers and Gen Zers—the people at both ends of our current demographics—can share a name, maybe there's hope for us all? Or maybe it makes a case for the eschewal of the categories altogether.
Words We're Watching talks about words we are increasingly seeing in use but that have not yet met our criteria for entry.