WORD NERDS: Which came first, the internet or memes?

By Barbara McAllister

Word of the Day: Meme

Even if you have been living under a rock (and I’m not judging), you probably have heard this word. If you are on social media, you cannot avoid it.
A “meme” is defined in the dictionary as “an element of a culture or system of behavior passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, especially imitation.” Less scientifically, most of us know it as an internet picture of a cute cat with a humorous caption or a crazy cat with a humorous caption or a Grumpy cat with a humorous caption. Thanks to the internet, these memes can and are instantly shared with large numbers of people.
Evidence notwithstanding, it isn’t just about funny pictures. Nor was the word meme (rhymes with scream) just invented for the internet. It comes from the Greek word mimema, meaning “that which is imitated.” Think “mimic,” “mimicry” or even “mime.”
The word was first introduced in 1976 by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene.” He attempted to understand why some behavior is culturally transmitted, similar to how physical traits are spread by genes. Dawkins wrote this well before the instantaneous reach of the internet. Although researchers were working on a military network in the early 1980s, the internet didn’t become the World Wide Web until the 1990s.
Dawkins wrote that memes “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.
He probably didn’t foresee the possibility of Grumpy Cat becoming a major force in our cultural evolution.