Definition of meme
1 : an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes. — Richard Dawkins
2 : an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media … the band encouraged fans to make memes to advertise the U.S. release of their EP … — William Gruger The grumpy cat meme frowned its way onto the Internet in September 2012 and never turned its dissatisfied head back. Since then, the image of the cranky cat has grown more and more popular in direct proportion to appearing less and less impressed by fame. — Anastasia Thrift
memeticplay \mē-ˈme-tik, mə-\ adjective … the exhibition seeks to give a sense not only of Holmes's origins but of the real-world milieu in which Conan Doyle set him and of his memetic spread through the culture. — Sam Leith
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Recent Examples of meme from the Web
Gallery to See Pop Culture Art Cultural nostalgia reaches new heights at Gallery 1988, where art is inspired by television, video games, film, internet memes, podcasts, and more.
Life is, as the Pinterest memes say, available for a limited time only, subject to change without notice, and (this is the good part) the sole responsibility of the recipient.
From there, the Internet did what the Internet does best: react with memes and gifs.
The optics of going after people on Independence Day simply for making memes.
Yet another online meme, evoking the Bridgegate scandal, showed New Jersey’s First Couple, in their beach chairs, in the middle of a bridge.
And last summer, Trump retweeted a sexist meme comparing the appearances of Melania Trump and Ted Cruz' wife Heidi.
In a series of extremely wholesome memes, the showrunner politely suggested that if the Emmy voters nominate his show’s actors, Kevin Garvey will slip out of his sweats.
Pepe’s likeness became a popular canvas for benevolent internet memes.
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'meme.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
Did You Know?
In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, British scientist Richard Dawkins defended his newly coined word meme, which he defined as "a unit of cultural transmission." Having first considered, then rejected, "mimeme," he wrote: "‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene.’ I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate ‘mimeme’ to ‘meme.’" (The suitable Greek root was mim-, meaning "mime" or "mimic." The English suffix -eme indicates a distinctive unit of language structure, as in "grapheme," "lexeme," and "phoneme.") "Meme" itself, like any good meme, caught on fairly quickly, spreading from person to person as it established itself in the language.
Origin and Etymology of meme
alteration of mimeme, from mim- (as in mimesis) + -eme
First Known Use: 1976See Words from the same year
MEME Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of meme for English Language Learners
: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from one person to another in a culture
: an amusing or interesting picture, video, etc., that is spread widely through the Internet
Seen and Heard
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