What is the origin of the phrase "social justice warrior"?

RationalWiki says that the phrase "social justice" (without warrior) originated in the 1840s.

Searching twitter for top tweets about "social justice warrior" got hits as early as August 2009. One tweet lead me to the ACLU blog post In Memory of a Social Justice Warrior: LGBT Rights Champion Carolyn Wagner from January 2011.

When and how did it become a popular phrase, possibly with capital letters ("Social Justice Warrior")? Also, was it coined and/or popularized by people who support social justice, their opponents, or a third party?

  • 1
    I imagine it's formed by analogy with ecowarrior, which as that link shows has become widespread over recent decades. Oct 12, 2014 at 12:42
  • "When and how did it become a popular". "was it coined and/or popularized by people who support social justice, their opponents, or a third party". All excellent questions.
    – Fattie
    Oct 12, 2014 at 13:39
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    ...phrase like "MoronWiki says that...", it would be better to say, perhaps, something like: "according to a wiki, this book _ _ _ asserts the phrase originated in 1840. (I've not been ably to find the "text of the book online", so.)
    – Fattie
    Oct 12, 2014 at 13:44
  • 2
    The idea that the collocation "social justice" was "coined" by someone in 1840 sounded unlikely to me. A quick check shows philosopher William Godwin using it in Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness (pub. 1793) - and I don't suppose he was the first, by a long shot. Warrior is doubtless strongly connected to Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior. Oct 12, 2014 at 15:11
  • 3
    The designation SJW is used in backlash against Unicorn Liberalism. It's been a thing for a year or so. It's rapidly being replaced by the term Twitter Lynch Mob, and none of this is a good fit for the site.
    – Carl Smith
    Dec 6, 2014 at 0:17

4 Answers 4


The early uses on Twitter were used by supporters of social justice.

The earliest social justice warrior tweet I found is from 16 May 2009 by Julie Powers (@JPowers155), and used positively:

Grace Lee Boggs. Social justice warrior. Dame. All around inspiration. #MIPolicySummit

Other early uses are also used positively, as was the first tweet with caps by Maryannaville™(BDS) (‏@Maryannaville) from 20 Apr 2010:

Social Justice Warrior: Dorothy I. Height http://ff.im/-jcX9f

  • 2
    +1 from me for having actual research and links. But seeing as its now used mostly (AFAICT) negatively, it would be nice to see some nod to that.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 30, 2015 at 9:32

This book from 1995 uses it:

the sensitive male writ large as compassionate lover, social justice warrior, and loyal son to Mother Earth.

I can't tell from the snippet whether it is ironic or serious.


I believe the term's etymology extends from armchair warrior. I'm sure it must have been coined in a pejorative sense. It seems slightly unbelievable that someone would use the term without irony.


The phrase "social justice warrior" seems to have come into use in and of itself over the last decade, albeit primarily within communities that are hostile to the idea of social justice, who, in applying the term warrior, seek to contrast the visceral nature of activist engagements with identity politics with a presumed presence of dispassionate logic on the part of those delivering the phrase.

For what it's worth, Google Trends does not register any large quantity of interest in the term prior to February 2013.

  • This is certainly the idea behind the current trend of use for SJW.
    – Mitch
    Apr 1, 2015 at 16:01

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