Translating Teen Speak: Meme

I have hit the age when I need to ask my teenagers to explain their vocabulary. I hate that I have hit this age. However, being a lover of words and an appreciator of adolescent wit and humor, I go ahead and ask my teens to translate their language and stoically endure the laughter and eye rolls that ensue.

One word that has caused confusion lately is “meme” (rhymes with beam). Being somewhat Internet savvy, I knew that a meme was a picture/pictures with a theme attached to it that circulates on the Internet. But it seems that’s not the whole story; my kids use the term in other ways.  In the past few months, we’ve heard these phrases in our family:

  • Upon receiving good news from me, eldest son texts: “That’s a nice meme.”
  • When husband walked around on the beach with his jacket hood pulled up, daughter said, “Stop it Dad, you look like the Hooded Kermit Meme.”
  • And during a road trip, apparently my daughter was “turned into a meme.”

Does any of this make sense to you? Let the Word Nerd Explain. Apparently, the word “Meme” has become enough of a phenomenon that Merriam-Webster now features it in its online dictionary. It was a word of the day last week.

Meme \’mēm\ from the Greek mim meaning to mime or mimic

  • an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture
  • 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

Are you familiar with Grumpy Cat? That’s a meme.

The British scientist Richard Dawkins first coined this word way back in 1975 to describe a “unit of cultural transmission”. He wanted a single syllable word that sounded like gene. Dawkins wrote:

Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes. — Richard Dawkins

Thank you Merriam-Webster and  Now, we can use this information to translate the phrases above.

  • My son’s response of “nice meme”: basically, it’s a compliment.
  • The Hooded Kermit Meme: a series of pictures of Kermit the Frog facing his evil Doppleganger dressed up like a Sith Lord. The pictures usually feature captions with a me/ also me theme, like “Me: I should study Also Me: But sleeping is a good option too.” The image originally appeared in the 2014 movie Muppet’s Most Wanted, but 19-year-old Anya Sudarkina used it to go along with a Tweet about the secret urge to steal cute dogs. The Tweet went viral, and Kermit and his evil twin have become very popular. Apparently, the meme appeals to the struggle between good and evil inside all of us.
  • My daughter got turned into a meme because her friends edited pictures of her and added humorous comments about her dietary preferences. (She’s a vegan.) They shared these pictures, or memes, in group chats.
My hooded Kermit meme, compliments of meme generator

Word Nerd Workout

Are you familiar with memes? Got any funny ones to share? How about other fun teen terms?

Don’t forget to visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for the WWW meme!

If you love learning about new words, visit Kathy’s blog for Wondrous Words Wednesday, which is also considered a meme!  Bloggers share new words they’ve learned or fun ones they love.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me today!









Julia Tomiak
I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and


  1. I know about memes, but I did not know the word was used for anything else but those funny photos. The one thing I do know about teen terms is that if I use them, my kids roll their eyes. So I try to stick to regular English.

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