There is a (derogatory) jargon term, which I am having trouble recalling, for something (or someone) that is unique, often in an obnoxious or unjustified way. (For example, in a message handling application, a message type that needs special handling when all other messages share a common path.) Does anyone know what it is?

I want to say it's either "butterfly" or "special flower" (or "special _____", anyway), but as you can probably imagine, trying to search on these terms it is extremely difficult to get contextually relevant results. If you can confirm, please cite sources, either examples of other usage, or better yet, a jargon dictionary entry.


Probably you are thinking of (special) snowflake, which Wikipedia defines as:

Snowflake is a 2010s derogatory slang term for a person, implying that they have an inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions. Common usages include the terms special snowflake, Generation Snowflake, and snowflake as a politicized insult.

The related term special snowflake syndrome also matches the intended usage:

(derogatory) The conviction that one [...] is, in some way, special and should therefore be treated differently from others.

These are just general definitions, but the term is definitely used to describe software. For example:

Another way to make only the background transparent is by using a transparent png as background-image, and then use this jQuery fix for the special snowflake IE.

(Matteo Riva on Stack Overflow)

(It’s easy to find more examples.)

The reason “special snowflake” makes sense here is because software like this is unique for no good reason (“an inflated sense of uniqueness”) and often requires extra effort to deal with (“an unwarranted sense of entitlement”).

  • Almost. I am, as you quoted but didn't include in your own text, thinking of "special snowflake". Note. (Also, Googling that turns up much more pertinent results, which shows that it is definitely the commonly used term.) – Matthew Apr 23 '20 at 15:01
  • The word snowflake, in this sense, is usually used for those who believe themselves to be unique, without being actually unique; as the quoted definition says, a snowflake is somebody who has 'an inflated sense of uniqueness'. – jsw29 Apr 23 '20 at 15:42
  • @jsw29, possibly I am asking the question poorly. In the programming sense, the term is used for something which is being treated uniquely, but shouldn't be unique (hence the pejorative). IOW, "unique [...] in an [...] unjustified way" (emphasis added). In any case, now that Laurel has jogged my memory, "special snowflake" is definitely the phrase I was trying to remember. – Matthew Apr 23 '20 at 15:50
  • I've edited this to give the answer as "special snowflake", not just "snowflake", with additional references. Folks that can review, please accept the edit so I can accept the answer. – Matthew Apr 23 '20 at 15:57
  • Eh, I liked my edit, but close enough. I already mentioned SSS in a comment; "(derogatory) The conviction that one (or often, one's child) is, in some way, special and should therefore be treated differently from others" is exactly what I'm looking for, and some Googling also confirms this usage, in addition to the SO link. – Matthew Apr 23 '20 at 16:51

The problem with your question is your use of the word 'unique'. Something is either unique (if there is only one of it/her/him, or or it isn't. Nowadays the word can be stretched to mean 'rare', and todays no longer tell there students that there is no such thing as 'almost unique' or 'quite unique'. Some (not all) good things/people are rare and some (not all) bad ones are rare. The unmistakably pejorative word for 'unique' or 'rare' is probably the US word 'oddball'. To be an oddball is to be different in a bad, foolish or annoying way.

Most people use the word unique in a positive sense. Laurel's suggestion of snowflake is the closest to the word you yourself suggested (butterfly). But neither snowflakes not butterflies are rare or unique. But if you really meant a butterfly type person, flitting from one thing to another without much thought or purpose (or, at least worthwhile thought or purpose), snowflake's your word. If you are looking for someone who is different from most others in a bad but not wicked way, try oddball.

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