Besides being what some people call their grandmother, memes are also what those cute pictures and clever visuals you see posted on Facebook are called. The biological term was coined before the digital age in 1976, and originally referred to shared cultural traits that were mimicked and passed on, not unlike genes. You can see how this came to be applied to Facebook and YouTube postings, which similarly are copied and shared, making the rounds until they become so popular as to be “viral” (another word borrowed from biology).
The word is a shortened form of mimeme, which has a Greek root meaning “that which is imitated.” The biologist who very consciously invented the term, Richard Dawkins, wanted a one-syllable word that sounded like “gene,” since memes share many similarities with genes. He even indicated how it should be pronounced, to rhyme with “cream.”
We have seen this word before, many years ago, before the modern photocopying machine was invented. Thomas Edison invented a duplicating machine in the late 1800s that came to be called a mimeograph, for obvious reason. “Meme” is also the French word for “same.”
In spite of the popularity of Internet memes, I don’t think the word is in widespread use yet. Try using it and see if people know what you’re talking about. A meme does not have to be visual, but can also be a word or catchphrase (“ermahgerd”). Former Star Trek actor George Takei is a prolific poster of pop-culture memes on his social media pages .