What Is a “Meme”?

Are you sure you know?

Lately, everyone seems to be creating memes, sharing memes, talking about memes, and commenting on memes in social media—but what in the world is a meme?

Meme (pronounced meem), a word that first appeared in the 1970s, is derived from the Greek miméme (“same, alike”). It is defined as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person in a culture.”[1] Meme remained a fairly obscure word until fairly recently, when the internet and social media infused it with new life. According to lexicographer Bryan Garner, a meme is “a humorous video, phrase, illustration, or other symbol or depiction that is suddenly and widely spread by and mimicked or parodied on the Internet.”[2] In popular culture today, however, the scope of its definition has been watered down and stretched thin to mean a digital version of what we used to call a poster or graphic with a caption, often a quotation attributed to a person whose image is a featured part of the graphic.

Meme mocking memesBut note: the thing that makes a meme a true meme, by definition, is that it is rapidly and widely shared via social media (like Facebook) on the internet. Technically, a photo with a caption or quote on it that you post on FB or Instagram is not a meme at all—unless it catches fire and goes viral, circling the globe faster than Superman. Otherwise (sorry to break the news), it’s just an image with writing on it.

Another thing about memes: We need to take them with a grain of salt. More distortions, half-truths, and outright lies are spread by memes on social media today than we can imagine. Don’t be quick to share something that can possibly damage another’s reputation—even if you can verify its accuracy.


[1] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh ed.

[2] Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016), 588.


© 2019 by Dean Christensen. (All rights reserved.)

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Use “Very” Sparingly

Only when necessary.

A quick-and-easy way to tighten our writing and make it flow more smoothly is to cut out the “flab.” Adjectives and adverbs* tend to bloat our writing, weighing it down with unneeded verbiage. Using fewer of them will almost always streamline writing and make it more interesting to read.

One flab word that often adds little to descriptive writing is the adverb very. We use very as an intensifier to give more strength to a verb or adjective. For example, “We got up very early this morning to see the sunrise. It was very beautiful.” Now read the same sentences without the verys: “We got up early this morning to see the sunrise. It was beautiful.” Has anything been lost? Not that I can tell.

My point is not that we should never use very to add strength to our writing, but to be aware of the verys and use fewer of them. Will “the woman ran very fast” tell us more than “the woman ran fast”? Very is a vague, subjective word that gives the reader almost no information. Instead of telling, add strength by showing the reader how fast she ran: “The woman sprinted down the field like a cheetah.”

And don’t forget this handy piece of advice attributed to Mark Twain:

Write Damn Instead of Very

*As you will recall, in simplest terms, adjectives describe or limit nouns and pronouns, and adverbs modify or describe verbs and adjectives.


© 2016 by Dean Christensen.

Welcome to The Dean’s English

Often humorous, always educational, this website promotes standard written and spoken American English.

Thanks for stopping by my website! My overarching goal is to celebrate and affirm standard written and spoken English and consequently promote clearer, more effective interpersonal communication. To that end, I’ve written blog posts and included other resources related to writing, language, grammar, words, usage, punctuation, and even pronunciation. For a few chuckles, check out the “Grammar Funnies” tab.

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