Science Diction: Meme

The word ‘meme’ has more to do with evolutionary biology than the internet.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

design of typewriter with text 'science diction'Science Diction is a bite-sized podcast about words—and the science stories behind them. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and sign up for our newsletter.


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Remember that summer when the internet was one Distracted Boyfriend after another—that flannel-shirted dude rubbernecking at a passing woman, while his girlfriend glares at him? Everyone had their own take—the Boyfriend was you, staring directly at a solar eclipse, ignoring science. The Boyfriend was youth, seduced by socialism, spurning capitalism. The Boyfriend could be anyone you wanted him to be.   

We think of memes as a uniquely internet phenomenon. But the word meme originally had nothing to do with the internet. It came from an evolutionary biologist who noticed that genes weren’t the only thing that spread, mutated, and evolved.

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Guest:

Gretchen McCulloch is an internet linguist. For some fun, check out her book, Because Internet, and her podcast Lingthusiasm. She’s also appeared on Science Friday.

Footnotes And Further Reading:

Credits:

Science Diction is written and produced by Johanna Mayer, with production and editing help from Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, and we had story editing help from Nathan Tobey. Our theme song and music are by Daniel Peterschmidt. We had fact-checking help from Michelle Harris. Special thanks to the entire Science Friday staff.

Meet the Writer

About Johanna Mayer

Johanna Mayer is the host of Science Diction from Science Friday. When she’s not working, she’s probably baking a fruit pie. Cherry’s her specialty, but she whips up a mean rhubarb streusel as well.

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