Meme is an Internet term popularized by
Richard Dawkins 4chan that refers to an idea, character, or in-joke that was naturally formed and established amongst a community—particularly on Internet bulletin boards, and particularly when proliferated through the creation of many variations and iterations. They are primarily comedic in theme, but not always.
Memes are often exclusive to the community they are born in, and are not necessarily spread to the wider Internet; sometimes they do manage to go viral, after which they are invariably ran into the ground and ruined forever. Other terms for the meme phenomenon exist, such as fad used by YTMND users.
In Japan, they are usually called ネタ (neta) LIES, see "In Japan" section below.
Examples of Heyuri memes
- WAHA (inherited from Futaba☆Channel and 4chan)
- ASCII Cat
- Rule 8
- Two small bowls
Examples of 4chan memes
- WAHA (inherited from Futaba)
- Yaranaika (inherited from Futaba)
- OS-tans (inherited from Futaba)
- Happy negro
- TEH REI
- Emo duck
- O RLY? / YA RLY / NO WAI!
- Robert Bopkins
A forced meme is when an idea or character wasn't formed naturally by a community, but was instead purposefully forced into being by one or more rogue users—especially if the wider community disapproves or rejects it. In some rare cases, forced memes can become actual memes or lead to the creation of a meme about the forced meme (such as with 4chan's Milhouse is not a meme meme), but these are usually controversial.
Broadening of the definition
Ever since around 2007, the definition of meme has been broadened to near uselessness. While originally only used by 4chan and similar websites, the term spread amongst the users of social networking sites thanks to several factors:
- the rapidly growing popularity and notoriety of 4chan
- the creation of meme blogs that stole/regurgitated/imitated 4chan memes, usually missing the original joke entirely (one example of such a site was icanhascheezburger.com)
- the creation of meme generators that allowed technically inept users to create their own image macros
Among this social network-oriented crowd, meme referred to anything on the Internet that was intended to be funny, regardless of how many users contributed towards it or how many variations had been made. A little known fact is that those using this distorted definition of meme on imageboards must be beaten with a large stick and told to lurk moar.
For clarification, something is not a meme just because:
- someone created and posted it to the Internet (see: original content)
- something is frequently shared around or is "trending" (see: viral)
- a caption has been slapped on top of or around it (see: image macro)
- it has been manipulated using image editing software (see: Photoshop)
- it is commonly repeated verbatim (see: catchphrase and copypasta)
- it is commonly repeated but with specific words or sections swapped out for others (see: snowclone)
- it is commonly used to represent the user's current facial expression or emotion (see: reaction image)
- it is a screenshot of a post(s) made to the Internet (see: screencap)
That is not to say that any of the above cannot contain memes (they frequently do) or become part of a meme themselves, just that they are not inherently memes.
Japanese Internet users often use the terms netchara (ネットキャラ, Romaji: nettokyara; short for net character) and character/chara (キャラクター, Romaji: kyarakutaa; キャラ for short, Romaji: kyara) to refer to memes. In essence, they are characters that were born on the Internet.
A common misconception is that the Japanese term neta (ネタ) is equivalent to meme, but this is only true under the broadened, social network-centric (see: wrong) definition of meme. Neta typically refers to jokes, stories/comics, parodies, etc. that someone at some point created—usually by taking something that already existed, and adding a little extra to make it funnier or more interesting.
The term derives from neta as used by sushi chefs to refer to the ingredients that are added to rice to create sushi, and is an inverted form of tane (種, タネ) meaning seed. Neta became commonly used outside of the sushi world as a metaphorical term for an important or enhancing element of a story/joke, like how adding an important or enhancing ingredient to rice makes for a more interesting meal.
Neta broadly covers things that in the English-speaking world would be described as photoshops, webcomics, image macros, reaction images, copypasta, etc. In the same vein as those things, neta may contain netchara or lead to the creation of netchara, but they are not netchara in and of themselves.