Saturday, October 25, 2014
Mac asked what a meme is, commenting that the term is showing up everywhere. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a cultural element or behavioural trait whose transmission and consequent persistence in a population, although occurring by non-genetic means (esp. imitation), is considered as analogous to the inheritance of a gene.”
In other words, just as a physical trait such as eye color gets transmitted genetically, certain catchy phrases, posters, videos, and so on run virally through a population – these days, thanks especially to the internet.
What gets passed on is usually trivial and humorous – a cat craving cheeseburgers, a dog being shamed for bad behavior, or an infant talking like an adult. Its origin was more serious. The term was used by biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book, The Selfish Gene. He was thinking of more serious transmissions, such as religious belief, copycat crime, art, fashion, etc.
The basis of the word comes from the Greek. It is a shortened form of μίμημα [mimema], that which is imitated. In turn, that came from the verb μιμεῖσθαι [mimeisthai], to imitate. And yes, a mime is related.
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