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Updated Oct 05, 2022 at 06:51AM EDT by Jill.

Added Feb 21, 2010 at 03:44PM EST by Ann Hiro.

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Related Explainer: What Is a Meme? The History and Evolution Of Memes Explained

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Memes are broadly defined as culturally transmitted information or ideas and beliefs that can be spread from one organism, or group of organisms, to another.[2] A key component to the meme concept is that the information is able to self-replicate, and in turn undergoes a type of natural selection, much like biological genes and viruses.


The word was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene (shown below). The book focused on the importance of self-replication in evolution and pointed to the gene as the unit of biological information that is subject to selection pressures.[1] He postulated that perhaps not only biological information undergoes natural selection and that anything that is capable of replicating itself would also be susceptible to selection pressures, like ideas and beliefs. The word "meme" was used to label this type of self-replicating cultural information, and it was derived from the Greek word mimema, which translates to "something imitated".

Cover for Richard Dawkin's The Selfish Gene which explains ideas can self replicate too


With the commercialization of the internet in 1995,[6] modern memes gradually became more strongly associated with internet memes. Internet memes are associated with media, catchphrases, and more general trends that spread throughout various outlets on the World Wide Web like chat clients, blogs, social networking sites, email, forums and image boards. They're often used to point out how trends online evolve and change over time, creating various new derivatives.[5]

vintage WWW logo

Russian Anti-Meme Law

The Russian Anti-Meme Law refers to the Russian government’s ban on impersonating or sharing doctored image macros of public figures that are deemed out-of-context in relation to their personality or reputation in real life. The policy was introduced in early April 2015 as a direct result of a court decision in Moscow which ruled the unauthorized use of Russian singer Valeri Syutkin’s images as an internet meme to be an infringement of his privacy. However in other areas of the world, the ban showed a Streisand Effect as satire and memeification towards Russia’s President Vladimir Putin showed an increase.

Vladimir Putin Meme about imprisoning memers


#MemeGate refers to an online feud between YouTubers LeafyIsHere and Ethan Klein of h3h3productions starting in late March 2016. The primary causes of the disagreement centered on accusations that LeafyIsHere cyberbullyied young and disabled vloggers and that Klein was hypocritical and preached sanctimonious views.

memegate movie poster

Various Examples


kids sitting on the floor with a mascot of Sonic The Hedgehog and a place called Meme Aids behind them World Meme Database reflected in sunglasses looking at screen Spongebob squarepants meme about how the first meme of 2014 will probably be something stupid Pepe the frog eating meme cuisine cereal before he was an alt-right symbol meme of Mr. Burns getting a shot in the arm of memes pencil style anime of girl and memes



Know Your Meme[3] is a database style website run by the Cheezburger Network. Although the site has a small support team, the site is largely dependent on crowdsourcing for the documentation of memes as they develop and for the submission of viral media as it spreads.

graphic of when an image requires a premium account on Know Your Meme

Encyclopedia Dramatica

Encyclopedia Dramatica[4] (or ED) is a satirical internet-culture based wiki similar to wikipedia created in late 2004 dedicated to documenting and categorizing internet memes and other cultural phenomenon. It is famous for having NSFW content that is largely uncensored. Originally hosted at, it was turned into the “safe for work” Semantic Mediawiki OhInternet. Most of the articles were salvaged from the website and are available for download, and a new wiki (previously, .se, and .ch) has been set up containing most of the old articles, and is constantly being updated with new articles.

Encyclopedia Dramatica home page graphic

TV Tropes

TV Tropes is a wiki devoted to the documentation of “tropes”, which are tools of the trade for storytelling in movies, television shows, literature, memes, and other forms of media. These conventions and devices are used in all forms of fiction, and should not be confused with clichés.

The Periodic Table of Story Telling

The Internet

The Internet is a system of interconnected computer networks linking billions of machines worldwide using the TCP/IP Internet protocol suite. Use of the Internet in the West expanded rapidly throughout the 1990s, growing over 100x within two decades. The Internet is the source of internet memes and is naturally the subject of numerous memes.

Welcome to the internet, I will be your guide demotivational poster style meme of man wearing computer parts on his head that loosely resemble a customer service headset


A fandom is a social group based around a particular interest and comprised of individuals who share that interest. On the internet, the term is typically used to refer to the fans of media franchises. It is often associated with fanfiction, as well as fan-made art and music. Fandoms are known for spawning large varieties of memes and in-jokes.

Starter pack meme of it is good, but the fandom sucks of My Little Pony, Undertale, Cartoon Network and Minecraft

Meme Elitism

Meme Elitisim is an online ideology rooted in the opposition to the popularization of memes among non-underground communities and the mainstream media. While elitism has been a staple element of online communities since the days of Usenet newsgroups, such disdain for the promulgation of meme culture can be seen as a countermovement to the growing influence of social media in the Internet culture which began in the late 2000s. Those who pertain to this belief tend to have ties with online communities that thrived before the arrival of Web 2.0 and view themselves as arbitrators of what a meme can be and cannot be.

chart explaining meme elitism and how a memes become less funny as they become more popular

Ironic Memes

Ironics Memes is a subculture surrounding memes that are used satirically, usually by being deliberately humorless, crude, or overused, as a way to both criticize meme or meme elitism cultures, which has been considered by some to have become overused and unfunny with time, usually due to The Family Guy Effect, as well as to catch those with less Internet experience off guard. The use of ironic memes often includes intentional overuse of older Internet phenomena, such as 1337 speak or rage comics, as well as the use of the word “meme” as a replacement for some parts of speech, usually nouns or verbs.

ironic meme about ironic memes causing depression

Various meta memes exist that make use of the word meme or memes within their own memes.

Meme Lord / Meme Master

Meme Lord is an internet slang term used to refer to someone who shows a strong passion for memes.[9] The alternate term Meme Master is often used as a synonym.[10] Meme Master was first used on March 2nd, 2006, by user Duffergeek on his blog.[11] In his post titled C’est la même meme he posts various facts about himself and near the end says “1. Leslie – Go Go Meme Master!”

Cartoon image of hands holding the book, How To Become Meme Lord in Less Thank 20 Minutes


Memeing is an internet slang verb that means to create or spread a meme. In 2013, the verb evolved to also mean communicating through memes.[7] On May 3rd, 1996, Matthew Aaron Taylor first used the term memeing in the title Fiction, AL, and the Memeing of Life for an online article about memes on the site Telepolis.[8]

Funny picture of when memeing goes wrong

Meme Overload

Meme Overload is internet slang which indicates that multiple internet meme references have been made. It often refers to images and videos, but can also be seen as a subgenre of online remix culture largely driven by the hyperinflation of online media and in-jokes in general.

authentic meme overload

Meme Magic

Meme Magic is a slang term used to describe the hypothetical power of sorcery and voodoo supposedly derived from certain internet memes that can transcend the realm of cyberspace and result in real life consequences. Since its coinage on the imageboard 8chan, the fictitious concept has gained popularity on 4chan’s /pol/ (politically incorrect) board and been heavily associated with several in-jokes and shitposting fads on the site, including Ebola-chan, Baneposting, and Donald Trump.

Meme magic of Pepe the frog pyramid, Arabic style mystical writing, a rainbow trail and a QR Code style graphic

Dank Memes

Dank Memes is an ironic expression used to mock online viral media and in-jokes that have exhausted their comedic value to the point of being trite or cliché. In this context, the word “dank,” originally coined as a term for high quality marijuana, is satirically used as a synonym for “cool.”

Meme about being born too late to explore the world, too early to explore the galaxy, just in time to explore dank memes

Search Interest

External References

[1] Wikipedia – Richard Dawkins; Fathering the meme

[2] Dictionary – Meme

[3] KnowYourMeme – Internet Meme Database

[4] Encyclopedia Dramatica – Main Page

[5] Wikipedia – Internet meme

[6] FAQs – Internet – The 1970s, The 1980s, Birth of the Internet

[7] Urban Dictionary – Memeing

[8] Telepolis – Fiction, AL, and the Memeing of Life

[9] Urban Dictionary – memelord

[10] Urban Dictionary – meme master

[11] Duffergeek – Duffergeek March 2006

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