What Is a 'Meme'?

Here are some illustrations for you

Leo DiCaprio toasting meme. screenshot
Leo DiCaprio toasting meme. screenshot

A 'meme' is a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea. 

The majority of modern memes are captioned photos that are intended to be funny, often as a way to publicly ridicule human behavior. Other memes can be videos and verbal expressions. Some memes have heavier and more philosophical content.

The world of memes (which rhymes with 'teams') is noteworthy for two reasons: it is a worldwide social phenomenon, and memes behave like a mass of infectious flu and cold viruses, traveling from person to person quickly through social media.

According to Cecil Adams of theStraightDope.com, the concept of memes "is either really deep, or really, really obvious".

Meme Examples 

Most modern internet memes have some element of humor: 

Some internet memes are also about shock-value and drama: 

Other memes are urban myths that tout some kind of life lesson:

A few internet memes are about deeper philosophical content and social commentary:

In some cases, a meme achieves notoriety as a conversational expression:

The majority of internet memes are transmitted by 20-something millennials. This is because that age group is hyperconnected and enamored with social media. The average age of meme users is increasing, though, as Generation X and Baby Boomer users discover the entertainment fun of spreading memes to their spreads.

The "meme" word was first introduced by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in 1976. "Meme" comes from the Greek word "mimema" (meaning "something imitated", American Heritage Dictionary). Dawkins described memes as a being a form of cultural propagation, which is a way for people to transmit social memories and cultural ideas to each other.

Not unlike the way that DNA and life will spread from location to location, a meme idea will also travel from mind to mind.

The Internet, by sheer virtue of its instant communication, is how we now spread modern memes to each other's inboxes. A link to a YouTube video of Rick Astley, a file attachment with a Stars Wars Kid movie, an email signature with a Chuck Norris quote... these are a few examples of modern meme symbols and culture spreading through online media.

The bulk of internet memes will continue to be humor and shock-value curiosities, as these grab people's attention more quickly than deeper meme content. But as users become more sophisticated in their thinking, expect memes to become progressively more intellectual and philosophical.

Other Examples of Modern Internet Memes:

Note: some of the following content is juvenile, and more targeted at adolescents. Some of these following memes are much more adult and are intended for more mature audiences.

  1. The New Old Spice Guy
    This dashing fellow is a YouTube phenomenon with his outrageous visual stunts.
  2. Judgmental Kermit 
    With Kermit's help, you can publicly judge someone's poor life decisions.
  3. Nuts the Squirrel
    is a Canadian critter who stole a front spot in a family photo.  
  1. Grumpy Cat
    This pouting critter is an icon of sarcasm and bitterness on the Web!

For your enjoyment: the 50 Internet Memes that Have Won Our Hearts!