Printable Version
Pronunciation: meem Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A unit of cultural information, a trend, transmitted verbally or by imitation. 2. An intentionally created humorous image or short video, usually accompanied by a catchphrase, transmitted rapidly via social media.

Notes: The adjective for today's noun, according to its creator, is memic. However, this adjective now has competition from the more traditional memetic. The noun from this adjective, memetics, means "the study of memes". (By the way, don't let the final -S fool you; memetics is singular, so memetics is, not memetics are.)

In Play: We have two rather different senses of this word: the cultural meme and the internet meme. Examples of the cultural meme are trends: tattooing, body piercing, colored hair, rap music, etc. Internet memes are simply funny pictures or videos that have gone viral. A good sampling of potential wine-related internet memes may be found here.

Word History: Today's word was created by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene (1976) by shortening Greek mimema "something imitated", the noun from mimeisthai "to imitate", which also went into the making of mimesis "mimicry". It was created from mimos "mime, imitator", the ultimate source of English mime. Beyond Greek, the trail seems to end. The only look-alike roots in PIE lead to the mem- in memory and a root which seems to have meant "wander" and ended up in Russian as mimo "alongside, by, past". Both are semantically too far astray to connect to our Good Word. (Our old friend Jackie Strauss of the "Remember When" radio show on WNTP Philadelphia recommended that we consider this virally spreading Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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