Why Have People Started Using the Word “Tribe” So Much?


Dear John,

It seems like everywhere I turn these days, someone is talking or writing about their “tribe.” I’m never quite sure what exactly that means. Do you know what it means when people today use that word?”—Baffled in Ohio

Dear Baffled,

As a matter of fact, I do. It means they’re idiots. The primary relationship people who use that word have with other people is through the Internet. People who daily e-communicate with a great many more people than they ever talk to in real life have grown enthralled with that word, because instead of socially retarded affirmation junkies it allows them to feel like lean, mean, jungle-dwelling, loincloth-wearing, rainstick-wielding shamans just one animal call away from being instantly surrounded by resolute yet unnervingly calm members of their “tribe.” It lets them imagine that through shared values and ideals they’re primordially linked with a network of people who in real life have a panic attack if their network server blinks out for a nanosecond.

Last of the Mogeekans. Text Messages with Wolves. Warriors of the “I’ll Sue!” tribe.

All hail Chief Starbucks, stalwart leader of the ferocious Blackberry tribe!

Oh, no.

I just had a revelation.

I’ve realized that I’m jealous because no one’s ever asked me to join their tribe.

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  • http://minoritythinker.blogspot.com Shannon

    Would you join my tribe of people who are tired of hearing about tribes?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore


  • Karen

    Hello there,

    I started referring to a core group of friends in a small community (5,000 pop) as a "tribe" about 15 years ago long before I became familiar with facebook and such. It was out of affection, caring and bonding with activities such as moonlight skiing, bon fires, music jams and pot lucks. In a small town you make your own fun and most of it is spontaneous and a group effort. The ages of this "tribe" spanned 30-60+ years old. The tribe ebbs and flows with additional members but still remains with a core. A great deal of creativity comes out at the gatherings usually around seasonal changes such as the equinox or solstice. We do not have a name, politics, rules, dues, blood ties, just comrades having experiences together.

    Just to let you know that for me "tribe" means something very close to my heart and I can't think of another word to use for it. We still function as a "tribe" fifteen years later. It is my other family, we grow old together, help each other and watch each others' children grow up too. I also refer to my small town as the "gypsy camp" because most of us migrated to the area from some where else.

    I came across your post as I was looking up definitions for tribe, still don't have another easy word to describe what happens naturally when people get together over the years face to face.