\ ˈmēm \

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

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Other words from meme

memetic \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

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.

Examples of meme in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

The dumpster-fire meme is probably shared more than any other on social media when a sports team is struggling. Pete Grathoff And Katy Bergen, kansascity, "Yes, there was a small dumpster fire outside Kauffman Stadium on Sunday," 9 July 2018 As is only proper, the meme was noticed by the media, ensuring that order has indeed been restored. Graeme Mcmillan, WIRED, "While You Were Offline: Man, Twitter Loves a Good Civil War Meme, Huh?," 8 July 2018 In short, technology has made this World Cup better than ever, with everything from the memes to the resolution getting a big boost this year. Chaim Gartenberg, The Verge, "Technology has changed my World Cup watching for the better," 8 July 2018 The meme’s popularity was solidified when model Chrissy Teigen, who is massively popular on the social network, made mention of the war. Jennie Neufeld, Vox, "#SecondCivilWar: how a wild conspiracy theory became a July 4th Twitter meme," 5 July 2018 Then there were the memes that popped up: Neymar crying out after getting touched on the shoulder, Neymar in a baby walker and pets pretending to be Neymar. Dave Quinn,, "Neymar 'Deserves an Oscar': Twitter Mocks Brazilian Soccer Star's Reaction to Ankle Injury," 3 July 2018 At the very least, the meme should show two different Lindsays in sensible denim button-downs. Claire Dodson, Teen Vogue, "Lindsay Lohan Made a "Parent Trap" Reference to Advertise Her Partnership With," 25 June 2018 This isn’t the first time that Teigen’s used the Arthur meme to troll Legend. Cady Lang, Time, "Chrissy Teigen Revives the Arthur Meme With a Perfect Troll of John Legend," 21 June 2018 But every time an Asian woman with a streak of color in her hair appears on the screen, the same meme makes the rounds calling out the film or TV show in question, as Racked pointed out in late 2017. Deanna Pai, Glamour, "It's Time to Retire the 'Hairstreak Asian' Trope," 24 May 2018

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.

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First Known Use of meme

1976, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for meme

alteration of mimeme, from mim- (as in mimesis) + -eme

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Statistics for meme

Last Updated

12 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for meme

The first known use of meme was in 1976

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More Definitions for meme



English Language Learners Definition of meme

: 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

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