Merriam-Webster defines “meme” as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” or “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.” That definition hasn't been around forever—it hasn't even been around for five years. The dictionary editors officially added the entry along with “emoji” and “clickbait” to the formal dictionary in May 2015.
Memes have always come with an air of mystery, intriguing and confusing even the most computer literate. Where did they come from? More importantly, what do they mean? Even modern science is hopping on the meme train. A team of scientific researchers from University College London, Cyprus University of Technology, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and King's College London came together in September 2018 to research the internet's most popular memes. Apart from assembling a definitive list of the world's favorite memes, the academic study also explored the influences (both positive and negative) that memes have on different communities. Some memes are created just for fun by creative or bored internet users, but others are made with the explicit intention of going viral to promote political ideas.
With the infinite number of memes scattered across the internet, it's hard to keep track. Just when you've grasped the meaning of one hilarious meme, it has already become old news and replaced by something equally as enigmatic. Online forums like Tumblr, Twitter, 4chan, and Reddit are responsible for a majority of meme infections, and with the constant posting and sharing, finding the source of an original meme is easier said than done. Stacker hunted through internet resources, pop culture publications, and databases like Know Your Meme to find 50 different memes and what they mean. While the almost self-replicating nature of these vague symbols can get exhausting, memes in their essence can also bring people closer together—as long as they have internet access.