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Nyan Cat, an example of a meme
Base Info
Term Meme
Origin Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene
Related Articles Fad, gag, kichiku

A meme is an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture. Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes.


The term "meme" originated from the book "The Selfish Gene" written by the famous British scientist Richard Dawkins. It is defined as "Something that has a similar role in the process of biological evolution".

In order to read it similarly to the word gene, Dawkins removed the prefix mi from the Greek root mimëma (the original meaning is something imitated) and changed it to meme. Such a change can easily make people "reminiscent of something related to the English word "memory", or with the French word même (same) or moi-même (myself)."[1]

Soon after Dawkins put forward the concept of meme, many scholars such as Susan Blackmore, Richard Brodie, and Aaron Lynch followed Dawkins' point of view, and actively wrote articles to clarify the meaning and laws of meme, and tried to establish the meme theory of cultural evolution.

The famous philosopher Daniel Dennet also agrees with meme's point of view. He applied meme theory to explain the mechanism of spiritual evolution in his books Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Nowadays, the word meme has been widely spread and is included in the "Oxford English Dictionary". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, meme is defined as: "The basic unit of culture, which is passed on through non-genetic means, especially imitation."

But please also note that this word and even the cultural phenomenon it refers to are in the process of evolution, so the creator and the definition in the English dictionary are not always very appropriate.


  1. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Chapter 11: Memes, the new replicators