What’s a Meme?

It is not a contration of Me! Me!

Meme (rhymes with dream or gene) is an idea, tune or other mental contruct; a mental virus. Richard Dawkins, the guy who initially described memes, said

Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leading from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.
Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind, you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn’t just a way of talking — the meme for, say, ‘belief in life after death’ is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of people all over the world.

Meme Central introduces memes with

Memes are contagious ideas, all competing for a share of our mind in a kind of Darwinian selection. As memes evolve, they become better and better at distracting and diverting us from whatever we’d really like to be doing with our lives. They are a kind of Drug of the Mind. Confused? Blame it on memes.