Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” (plural, “memes”) in 1976 as a unit of cultural transmission of ideas, symbols, and practices via words, images, gestures, speech, and rituals, as well as any combination of those. He saw memes as carriers of cultural ideas that could evolve in a manner similar to biological evolution.

An early example of a meme in 20th century popular culture is the phrase “Kilroy was here!”, which typically accompanies a cartoon image of a man peering over a wall while grabbing the top of it with both hands. “Kilroy was here!” became a popular form of graffiti during World War II and has been known by other variations in the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries.

Today, the Internet has allowed memes to flourish through social media, enabling immediate reactions to events in sports, politics, popular culture, the news, and so forth.



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