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50 famous memes and what they mean

  • 50 famous memes and what they mean

    Merriam-Webster defines “meme” as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” or “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.” That definition hasn't been around forever—it hasn't even been around for five years. The dictionary editors officially added the entry along with “emoji” and “clickbait” to the formal dictionary in May 2015.

    Memes have always come with an air of mystery, intriguing and confusing even the most computer literate. Where did they come from? More importantly, what do they mean? Even modern science is hopping on the meme train. A team of scientific researchers from University College London, Cyprus University of Technology, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and King's College London came together in September 2018 to research the internet's most popular memes. Apart from assembling a definitive list of the world's favorite memes, the academic study also explored the influences (both positive and negative) that memes have on different communities. Some memes are created just for fun by creative or bored internet users, but others are made with the explicit intention of going viral to promote political ideas.

    With the infinite number of memes scattered across the internet, it's hard to keep track. Just when you've grasped the meaning of one hilarious meme, it has already become old news and replaced by something equally as enigmatic. Online forums like Tumblr, Twitter, 4chan, and Reddit are responsible for a majority of meme infections, and with the constant posting and sharing, finding the source of an original meme is easier said than done. Stacker hunted through internet resources, pop culture publications, and databases like Know Your Meme to find 50 different memes and what they mean. While the almost self-replicating nature of these vague symbols can get exhausting, memes in their essence can also bring people closer together—as long as they have internet access.


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  • Distracted boyfriend

    “Distracted boyfriend” first entered the meme game in 2017, when a Turkish Facebook group used a stock photo of a man walking with a girl while checking out another girl to make a joke about Phil Collins. The meme continues to be relevant today while being used as inspiration for pop culture references, such as this recent one involving "Queer Eye's" Antoni Porowski, and new celebrity couple Kate Beckinsale and Pete Davidson at a New York Rangers game.

  • Expanding brain

    In 2017, when a number of posters on Tumblr and 4chan started bragging about their brain sizes, it quickly turned into a meme. Photos of different sized brains are paired with “smart” sounding words until they expand into a fully enlightened stage. One of the first manifestations of the “expanding brain” meme came from the who-whom-whomst progression of words that seemingly makes one sound smarter.

  • Young Thug at computer

    Back in 2018 a photo surfaced of the rappers Young Thug and Lil Durk staring at a computer screen while working on new music in the studio. The internet quickly began finding humorous (and fabricated) explanations for what the two were so intently concentrating on, everything from the rappers planning an elaborate heist to playing old school games like minesweeper.

  • First World problems

    While the “First World” terminology has been around for a while, the hashtag #firstworldproblems reached its peak in popularity on Twitter in 2011 after Buzzfeed posted a series of memes about problems experienced by privileged people from wealthy countries. The meme almost always depicts an attractive person looking sad, with a caption explaining his or her First World frustrations.

  • Change my mind

    After Steven Crowder, a conservative podcaster, posted a photo of himself in 2018 sitting at a desk with a sign saying “Male privilege is a myth: Change my mind,” it was almost too easy for the internet to begin making fun of him with memes of their own. Memes ranged from simply changing the words on the sign to elaborate photoshops.

  • Drake

    Drake has been the subject of several different memes throughout his long career. His 2015 single “Hotline Bling” was one of the biggest songs of the year, and when the music video came out featuring Drake dancing in a brightly lit cube structure the memes began to accumulate even more. Since then the internet has memed everything from his Twitter posts to school portraits.

  • Is this a...?

    The “is this a pigeon” meme first rose to popularity in 2011 after Tumblr posted a photo from a Japanese animated show of an android mistaking a butterfly for a pigeon. Most of the memes derived from the photo use the subjects to express modern confusions or paranoia.

  • Real name Google searches

    “Real name Google searches” is a meme that gained popularity in 2018 using the generic google template to depict made-up names for popular celebrities (usually those who go by aliases). According to Know Your Meme, it first appeared showing the rapper Lil Pump's name as “Lilliam Pumpernickel” and only got more ridiculous from there.

  • Futurama Fry

    “Futurama Fry” is one of the most relatable memes on the web. One popular meme, which began in 2011, shows the character Fry from the animated show “Futurama” with eyes narrowed thinking about contradicting questions usually referring to modern times or sarcasm. Another is a generic photo with the same character holding cash yelling “shut up and take my money,” used for when someone finds the description of a product on the internet particularly appealing.

  • Weird flex but OK

    The phrase “weird flex but OK” is used when someone brags about something that others would find awkward or just plain irrelevant. The phrase began showing up on the internet in 2017 and has continued to be used in response to awkward boasts. One of the most popular uses of the meme was during the recent Brett Kavanaugh hearings after he used his high school virginity as an argument.

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