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  • Writer's pictureVyvyan Evans

It's a Brat Summer

The use of 'brat' by pop star Charli XCX and why it works


Photograph: @CHARLI_XCX/INSTAGRAM


The word ‘brat’ is typically used to mean an annoying, spoiled, or impolite child often with a connotation of irritation (and in terms of the so-called “Brat-pack”, to include a reference to perceived undue entitlement and advancement by virtue of being offspring of talented, wealthy and well-connected parent actors).


The origin of the word into modern usage is not clear. It exists in Middle English with the meaning of an old or ragged cloak: “bratt” including a reference in Chaucer. This meaning may have evolved to refer to garments worn by a beggar’s child, and later more generally refer to a child.


Another theory is that the term is an acronym, possibly from the 18th century, referring to the child of a British soldier: “British Regiment Attached Traveller.”


"Brat" as a word used today by late millennials and especially Gen Z (including Charli XCX), can be seen as the repurposing of ‘brat’ as a word of protest. The word is increasingly perceived by younger people as serving as a put-down, a pejorative term applied to young people, which is used to deny, dismiss or negate their emotions and aspirations. 


So, the use of “brat” or “brat summer” in this way, can be seen as a a declaration that the singer is taking ownership of a negative term, used by older people as an explicit put-down, to reclaim it, and turn the tables on those very older (often establishment) people that use ‘brat” as a form of insult (against young people's aspirations unfairly dismissed as “cockiness”).


Using and co-opting former insults as a badge of (especially in-group) honour is a common linguistic artifice throughout history. The word “nigger’ is a case in point. Not only does the use of “brat’ by younger people signal a co-opting of an external negative term to signal in-group belonging and values, it serves to weaponize the very insult against its users.


My analysis of the use of 'brat' in this way, formed part of a report in The Guardian newspaper, here.

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