When Did Memes Start

If you use the internet, then you already know what a meme is. Memes have become an inseparable part of our modern life. But do you know when did meme start? How they evolved? Why it is called “meme”? In this article, let’s have a look at all the details.

Where did the word “Meme” originate?

First of all, it is pronounced as “meem”, not “me-me”. The first published case of the word meme dates back to The Selfish Gene, which is a Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book. He referred to as “Mimeme”, which means “that which is imitated” in Greek. Because of its similarity to the word “gene”, the word was then abbreviated to just “meme”.

In order to see whether there was a measurable unit explaining how ideas spread and propagated through generations, he coined this term. In simple words, a meme is to an idea what a gene is to a physical attribute. Richard believed that like physical characteristics and genes, memes and ideas are also capable of undergoing evolution via natural selection.

The present form of the word “meme” was originated from the concept of the replication, selection, and evolution of ideas on the biggest platform ever- the internet.

Were there memes before the internet?

It’s hard to believe that memes were already there long before the internet came into existence. Even before Dawkins invented the term, the memes existed in the form of graffiti around as early as 79 AD in a Pompeii ruin and as late as the 1970s.

The Sator Square is a palindrome of the five words “SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS”. The words are written on top of each other. The words remain the same even if you read them upside down and backward. Its meaning is yet not known but it has been a part of different cultures over the centuries all across France, England, Syria, Italy, and many more countries.

The fictional character of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo Baggins, was also a well-known meme at some point. One could see “Frodo Lives” written all over in graffiti, buttons, bumper stickers on cars, etc. It became very popular among those people who thought that Frodo was a metaphor for being held down by “The Man.”

In the early 1990s, another meme occurred on Usenet known as Godwin’s Law. It was for a newsgroup discussion forum initially, but even after 30 years after it still remains relevant. According to Godwin’s Law, “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Once a thread would reach that point, whosoever mentioned the Nazis would immediately lose reliability in the argument.  

What were the first internet memes?

Speaking of the internet memes, the first one got viral when a dancing baby went popular, before finally appearing on an episode of Ally McBeal.

To show how the movement could be programmed and projected with computers, graphic designer Michael Girard created software in 1996. The first design showed the model of a baby doing different dance movements.

What do you think?