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What Does “Meme” Mean?

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Do you know the true origin of the word “meme”? You may be surprised to learn that its meaning goes beyond the modern usage. This blog post will delve into everything meme, including who coined the term and what it means today.

White text over white background reads "What Does Meme Mean"?
Did you know that an evolutionary biologist first used the word “meme” in the 1970s?

What Is a “Meme?”

In the modern sense, a meme (also known as an internet meme) is an image, screenshot, or graphic that contains text and goes viral (i.e., spreads rapidly online). It provides humorous or satirical social commentary on a relatable situation or topic. Memes often reference pop culture or current events, and rely on the internet and social media for their rapid and widespread circulation.

An important characteristic of memes is their ability to evolve as they are shared. People can remix them to represent inside jokes and shared experiences.

Meme shows clips from Pablo Escobar documentary with text that reads "when you're patiently waiting for your meme to go viral."
Another common trait of memes is their ability to go viral.

However, it’s essential to note that the word meme has a much more intricate and scientific meaning, which we’ll elaborate on below.

Origin of the Word “Meme”

Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist, first used the term meme in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene. The word meme was influenced by the word gene and is the shortened version of mimeme. It was derived from the ancient Greek word “mīmēma,”  which means “imitated.”

Dawkins draws a parallel between the two because, much like genes, memes spread ideas, styles, and behaviors from person to person within a culture, often carrying a symbolic meaning that represents a phenomenon or theme.

In the scientific sense, think of memes to be a metaphorical bug that “infects” multiple people with ideas, perspectives, symbols, or practices that are transmitted through writing, speech, and other imitable actions. Memes, like genes, depend on imitation, variation, competition, and inheritance for propagation.

In this sense, a few examples of memes include:

Common catchphrases
Fashion trends
Ideas and perspectives

How To Pronounce “Meme”

The pronunciation of meme depends on the language you’re speaking in. But in English, meme is pronounced /miːm/ (“meem”).

“Meme” Pronunciation:

Some people pronounce meme as mee-mee or meh-meh. Although this may be correct in other languages, it is not in English.

Meme shows confused kid from the movie "We're the Millers" with text that reads "When you finally realize meme is pronounced meem and not mee-mee."
In Spanish, “meme” is pronounced “meh-meh,” but in English, the correct pronunciation is always “meem.”

“Meme” Examples

We’ve already provided a few examples of memes used in the evolutionary sense. But if you’re looking for examples of internet memes, you can find them here.

The phrase “take out” has multiple meanings. 
Meme shows scene fron Austin Powers with the antagonists laughing, with text that reads "Tense? Moody? Irregular? You must be a verb."
A verb can have different tenses and mood, and it can also be irregular. 
Meme with three Spider-man characters pointing at each other shows the similarities between the English, Spanish, and German word for "hello."
The word for “hello” is similar in English, Spanish, and German. 
Meme with Leonardio Dicaprio sitting on a couch and pointing at the TV has text that reads "When you're watching a show in your target language and understand one word."
Watching TV in your target language is a great way to learn a language. 
Meme shows scene from Fight Club with Brad Pitt with text that reads "First rule of learning English: There are no rules."
English grammar rules can have so many exceptions, that it can seem like there are no rules at all. 

How To Make a Meme

Many online meme generators make coming up with your own memes easy. These websites include popular images that you can add text to. Popular examples of this type of website are MemeGenerator and Make a Meme.

Now that you know where you can create a meme, it’s time to learn how to write the accompanying text. Here are a few bits of advice you can use:

Keep Timeliness in Mind

If you want your meme to go viral, timing is essential. Don’t create a meme using something that was relevant six months ago and expect it to gain traction and popularity. Instead, it’s better to create a meme using a recent event or trend.

Incorporate Cultural References

Memes that contain cultural references—like popular pop culture trends, current events, widely recognized symbols, phrases, and more—tend to spread like wildfire.

Know Your Audience

It’s essential to know your audience and tailor the content to their humor, understanding, and interests. Also, be careful not to create a meme that can be deemed hurtful or hateful to any particular group.

Use Relatable Experiences

What makes memes go viral is their relatability. Therefore, writing text that people can understand and sympathize with is a good idea. To achieve this, think of everyday experiences people can easily relate to and connect with.

Keep It Short

A common characteristic of memes is that they contain concise and snappy text. Make sure to avoid using unnecessary long sentences.

Do you know what you want to express but don’t know how to write it simply?

LanguageTool’s paraphraser can shorten your sentence to help ensure your meme goes viral! This multilingual writing assistant can also check for spelling and grammar errors because the last thing you want is for viral content that is attributed to you to have a mistake in it. Try it out today to write the perfect meme!

Meme shows frustrated man from the movie The Lord of the Rings with text that reads "When your meme finally goes viral, but there's a spelling mistake in it."
Don’t let this happen to you! Use LanguageTool to write the perfect meme.

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