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An Image Macro is a broad term used to describe captioned images that typically consist of a picture and a witty message or a catchphrase. On discussion forums and imageboards, image macros can be also used to convey feelings or reactions towards another member of the community, similar to it predecessor emoticons. It is one of the most prevalent forms of internet memes.
The earliest captioned images were made by American photographer Harry Whitter Frees in 1905. The picture consisted of a photograph of a cat dressed in a robe sitting on a chair and a caption that says: “What’s Delaying My Dinner?” It is also considered the prototype of LOLcats that became immensely popular a century later.
The term “image macro” was first coined in Something Awful in 2004. In the forums, users could summon a number of default image macros using simple commands like [img – macro], for example, timelines, “Aces!” and “Captain Obvious to the Rescue!” images. The name is derived from the computer scientific definition of a macro: a rule or pattern that specifies how a certain input sequence should be mapped to an output sequence according to a defined procedure. The earliest definition of an image macro was submitted by SomethingAwful forum user Eclipse on February 12th, 2004.
In 2005, the term “image macro” spread across a number of other forums and imageboards, most notably on 4chan where the medium of image macros took on a life of its own. The popularity of image macros in the anonymous community culminated with the birth of LOLcats circa June 2006. While the scope of the term was initially limited to describing images captioned in bold Impact font with white letters and a black outline, its working definition eventually expanded to describe images with superimposed text.
Beginning in 2007, numerous websites such as I Can Has Cheezburger and MemeGenerator were launched to allow users to easily create image macros. The text is usually in a bold Impact font with white letters and a black outline. With the mainstream exposure of 4chan and development of image macro subgenres in the late 2000s, the term has been increasingly referenced in the news media outside of Internet communities as well.
Demotivational Posters, also referred to as Demotivator, are image macros that consist of a picture, centered and bordered in black, with all-cap description written in white, and in some cases, a tagline written in smaller font. The style of template was pioneered in 1998 by Despair Inc., one of the first websites to create parodies of motivational posters that were commonly found in corporate offices. The images usually contain messages that would discourage one’s moral strength and diminish one’s self-esteem.
Lolcats are image macros of photographs of cats with captions depicting monologue of the cats, speech bubbles or captions of the situation. The text is often written with poor spelling and grammar intentionally, as well as L33Tspeak and Lolspeak.
Reaction Images also use superimposed text to further emphasize or complement the subjects or situations depicted in the images, mostly well-known catchphrases like FAIL, And Not a Single Fuck Was Given That Day and Your Argument is Invalid.
Advice Animals is an exploitable image macro series that feature various animals (humans included) with their own archetype. Advice animals image macros vary from the heads of animals on a color wheel background to unedited photos but almost always contain one or two lines of text.
Search queries for “image macros” began to rise in volume circa January 2005, nearly a year after the term was registered into Something Awful’s dictionary section.