Captionless Memes

Captionless Memes

Updated Feb 05, 2014 at 07:44PM EST by James.

Added Sep 04, 2012 at 06:51PM EDT by SineSwiper.

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Most image-based memes are derived from the same formula of taking an amusing image and adding in the punchline with a caption. The life of these image memes generally fall into two categories:

  1. Images with different captions that eventually turn into Exploitables
  2. A meme where the image and the caption are forever linked together

In the case of the second category, these memes can be so popular within a community that they eventually turn into Captionless Memes. Because the image is already mentally linked with the original caption, the caption is now considered unnecessary. (This kind of “fill in the gap” mental trick is like the Read This in My Voice meme.) In fact, the lack of the caption adds another layer to the joke, and renews a potentially “stale” meme.

On the flip side, the Captionless Meme may result being the dominant form of the meme. This can become a source of confusion for newcomers who have never seen the original form, and have no idea what the hidden caption is supposed to be.

Differences Between Similar Memes

Because the meme shares properties with other types of memes, Captionless Memes can be confused with them:

  • Exploitables – Exploitables are blank images with the intent of filling them with different captions. An exploitable usually doesn’t work without the caption already in place. CMs are “blank” images with the intent of filling them mentally with the well-known caption. Certain exploitables can become CMs, if the image has a well-known tie to a common quote. However, it is not a guaranteed reflexive relation (not 1:1 for all cases).

  • Reaction Faces – Again, a CM could also be a Reaction Face, but this is not always the case. Reaction Faces are (typically) good on its own and don’t need a caption. The emotional reaction is in a context that everybody can follow. It likely started it’s life without a caption in place and worked in either form.

    A Captionless Meme is a former meme that really needs the caption to identify the full joke. It only works because it’s already well-known or popular. Without the context of the original meme, some people won’t get the full meaning or understand the meme at all.


As this isn’t a specific image meme, it’s hard to track the first occurrence of a CM, but this may have started with the “Well, Bye” image. This was well-known on Fark and quickly turned into a CM:

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