What's in a Word | All Blogs


A squirrelly use of a word

By Debra Dobbins


I only had a vague notion of what a “meme” is, so I looked it up.

First, I tried I my trusty desktop Webster’s, and the word was not in there. (It may be time to invest in a more up-to-date version.)

Going online, I discovered the word is relatively new – it’s only been around since 1976. It was coined by a British biologist named Richard Dawkins “as a way to encourage readers to think about how Darwinian principles might be extended beyond the realm of genes,” according to Wikipedia.

Dawkins’ word is based on the Greek word mīmeîsthai, which meant to “imitate, copy,” according to the 2013 edition of the Random House Dictionary

Disappointingly for Dawkins, the word has taken on a much more general sense. In the context of the cartoon above, it means “a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes,” according to Random House.

Apparently, the Internet is overrun with memes in their latter-day sense. We spread them by using tools such as Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.

A charming example is based on a squirrel that stole the show in a photo taken on a vacation in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. For more on that story and to see the photo, go to http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2009/08/13/camerahogging_squirrel_an_internet_sensation.html.
 

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