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What do a black cat, a confident baby and Willy Wonka have in common? They’ve all gone viral as memes! If you’re not sure what a meme is, you’re in good company: a quick survey of my adult friends showed that most had no idea what a meme is. By the end of this post you’ll not only understand memes, but your creative juices will be flowing so quickly you’ll be ready to create them yourself.

“Meme” is pronounced like “meem.” A sophisticated person might assume its origin is in the French word “m├¬me,” which means “same,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if its roots are more┬ánarcissistic: “Me! Me!” I say this because back in the internet Dark Ages, memes consisted of lists of questions that would be emailed from person to person, and each recipient would add his or her answers to the list. (e.g., What kind of ice cream do you like? Where would you most like to travel?)

A modern meme consists of text placed on top of an image, like a one-frame cartoon. The image is usually an isolated image on top of a pinwheel-patterned background. The “same” aspect comes from the fact that the same images are used over and over again, but with different text. Here are some examples of the same picture used with different text:

cat meme fireman cat cabinets cat meme dot

Many memes consist of text at the top and the bottom of a picture. The point is often to lead the reader in one direction with the top text, and then take it in a surprising direction with the bottom text.

The memes at the most popular meme-generating site, memegenerator.net, often have names and descriptions. The cat above is known as Business Cat, and is described as follows:

Because so many people work in cubicle-filled offices and have to deal with upper management in the form of bosses, this meme and others like it has struck a chord in office workers everywhere. The fact that boss-like advice is coming out of a well-dressed, professional-looking cat, makes it all the more funny.

Before you create a meme and post it on a Facebook wall, be sure you’ve captured the “personality” of that meme. It’ll be funnier that way, and people will be less likely to complain that you’re doing it wrong.

Here are more popular meme images:

Success Kid Starbucks Success Kid Foul Bachelor Frog Willy Wonka

 

Some of my favorite memes are from someecards.com. You can place your witty saying atop hundreds of vintage vector art images on the site. Here are some of my recent faves:

 

There are many more funny memes, but some are a little (or a lot) too edgy to include on this family-friendly blog. There are also many that require knowledge of a particular college campus, a television show or a movie. After exploring various meme sites, perhaps you’ll feel inspired enough to make your own meme. Maybe it’ll even go viral!

Now that I’ve taught you about memes, that probably means they’ve jumped the shark. So get on board quickly!

Facebook meme pages I “like”: