Thursday, August 25, 2005

Today's Word: Meme

Now, a lot of my words are rooted in history - they have stories that span generations and roots that draw from our earliest ancestors.

Not 'meme'!

Meme was invented! It's barely old enough to drink!

In 1976, British scientist Richard Dawkins wrote a controversial book about his theories of social development entitled 'The Selfish Gene' which discussed the similarities between physical and cultural evolution. But don't confuse Mr. Dawkins' theories with the political theories of Ayn Rand! No! In fact, his work explores the seemingly unexplainable altruism that plays a delicate part in the balancing of the theory of evolution a stark contrast with Ms. Rand's Objectivist ideas.

A meme, per Mr. Dawkins, is a cultural virus of sorts. An often used example is the 'smiley' face that is recognized as a visual meme across the internet.

: )

A meme (which rhymes with gene) can be word, a phrase, a behavior, an article of clothing...anything that is spread via social means.

Memetics is the study of the spread of these cultural flags and follows Darwin's theories on evolution and natural selection.

Dawkins didn't just make up a funny sounding word! No, he's a scientist! (Yes, he's still alive! That's how new this word is!)
'Meme" is derived from two sources: The Greek root, 'mim-' meaning to mime or copy, and the English suffix '-eme' which denotes a unit of measure. Technically, the word should be 'mimeme', and Dawkins acknowledges this in his book, but he liked the shorter word better, particularly because of the similar sound to 'gene'.

Dawkins was a close friend of the late Douglas Adams (author of the famous Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series) and is an ardent atheist!

He likes monkeys!



Blogger Agent Em said...

Mr. Word,

Dawkins is indeed a fascinating character on the fringe of Anthropology. I must comment, however that 'meme' and 'gene' are actually slant-rhyme, not true rhyme. A true rhyme for meme would be 'seam.'

10:43 PM  
Blogger Mojo said...

Thanks for illuminating this. I've seen this word in constant use all over the internet, usually referring to some service such as Flickr. Yet I never knew what it meant. I knew if I read your blog long enough, you'd get around to it. You may not be 1000 monkeys or have 1000 typewriters, but I still have faith you'll get around to every single word sooner or later.

8:41 AM  

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