The original coinage of the term “meme”

From The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, 1976.

I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet.  It is staring us in the face.  It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind.

The new soup is the soup of human culture.  We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.  ”Mimeme” comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like “gene”.  I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.  If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to “memory”, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with “cream”.

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 leaping from body to body via sperms 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… 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 the 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 individual men the world over.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: