What’s a meme?

I had a (gentle) argument with a lady about two years ago regarding how to pronounce “meme”.  For the record, meme rhymes with theme, team, obscene… you get the idea.

I have a PowerPoint of (age appropriate) memes that plays on the library flatscreens from time to time. Kids LOVE them (and sit there watching them, glassy eyed and drooling) but teachers don’t always get them. So, in the name of library science, I present a crash course in memes.


Batman Slap meme

What is a meme?

Short answer: A “meme” is a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea. Can be text, picture, video, etc.
Long answer.

Kid’s answer: It’s a (recognisable) picture with a funny caption.


But what does it actually (wait for it…) meme? #worstjokeever

It means that people partner captions with pictures for a laugh. Famous ones become recognisable and the picture gets repeated with new captions relevant to that meme. To see what I mean, go and have a look at this list and then google (image) one of the meme names. I just wish that page also had examples, because it’s quite a good list. For a (less pretty) list with pictures, try here.

Sometimes, a meme can work in reverse, meaning that the caption is what stays the same (or similar) and the picture changes. A good example of this (and one of my favourites because it happens to be one of my nicknames) is Ermahgard (my other favourite is X all the Y).

Unhelpful High School Meme

Unhelpful High School Meme

Why do I as a librarian/teacher need to know what a meme is?

Mostly because I hate it when kids know jokes I don’t.

I think it’s important to have some idea of what is making kids laugh, especially as a librarian with the responsibility to purchase resources for students. We need to know what kids are actually like rather than an idealised (or criminalised!) notion of what we think they’re like.

In addition, a lot of memes react to current popular culture such as TV and film. I like Confused Gandalf, but One Does Not Simply is a great one for teaching class rules (One Does Not Simply Ask the Teacher if She Has a Spare Pen…). Austin Powers is also good for class rules (you can tell I think about this too much). You may have seen some Game of Thrones Brace Yourselves memes on Facebook everytime a big sporting or political event is on (recently “Brace Yourself, Origin Statuses Are Coming”). I really hope lots of my kids DON’T watch GoT, but they seem to love the memes.

Finally: they’re funny. They’re a quick and visual way to convey humour, share an in-joke and connect with an audience quickly.

Once you get the hang of them, you can even make your own memes here .

-The Notbrarian.






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