What is a meme?


What is a meme? Why do they exist? Why do they matter for English learners? Who am I? We hope to answer these questions below… except for the last one:)

Memes are everywhere. You’ve seen them. Maybe you’ve used them, but what is the best way to define them?

The primary definition from the Oxford dictionary is: “a type of behavior that is passed from one member of a group to another, not in the gene but by another means such as people copying it.” So in general a meme is an idea that has spread through knowledge transfer – cultural exchange or social means. 

In modern times, the word meme has taken on a specific meaning related to communication and the Internet. This is also from the Oxford dictionary: “an image, a video, a piece of text, etc. that is passed very quickly from one internet user to another, often with slight changes that make it humorous.” Like this one:

Why do memes exist?

Internet memes have exploded with the growth of email, texting and social networks. However, people have been using pictures to express ideas for thousands of years. There is the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” – the idea that a single image can convey complex thought more effectively than a mere written description. 

Also, pictures are a great way to convey ideas across language. Political cartoons are a great example of how journalists have combined images of cultural references and humor to make a point. If done right, you don’t need to read the words to understand what is happening.

Finally, humans love to find ways to embellish speech. Every language has its own idiomatic expressions. These idioms serve to provide additional context and meaning to the written and/or spoken word. Memes are just an extension of this.


Do memes matter for English learners?

Yes! To advance beyond the basics of English, it is important to understand culture. Memes are becoming part of cultural expression. In some cases memes are starting to transcend regional cultures to have a global meaning. They connect people through a shared experience and sometimes through a shared laugh:) 

Sometimes, not fully understanding Western culture can be an obstacle for English learners – especially in the workplace. Many of our Lingoloop students struggle with idiomatic expression and the cultural gap that can sometimes create a lack of confidence speaking English.

Are you “hitting a wall” with your progress as an English learner? Try a Lingoloop online English class today. Our students love Lingoloop so much they give us 5-star reviews