1 : an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture
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
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." (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.) Like any good meme, meme caught on and evolved, eventually developing the meaning known to anyone who spends time online, where it's most often used to refer to any one of those silly captioned photos that the Internet can't seem to get enough of.
"Graffiti have been the elemental memes of political speech ... in all the oppressed countries of this world." — Claude I. Salem, The New York Times Magazine, 17 Apr. 2011
"Memes are often harmless images—think of the photos of the scowling 'Grumpy Cat'—with humorous text over it, like 'the worst part of my Monday is hearing you complain about yours.'" — Michael Levenson, The Boston Globe, 6 June 2017
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