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  • Morana Lukač

The Language of the Coronavirus: Memes

Updated: Mar 23

The word “meme” was first coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his first bookThe Selfish Gene (1976) in an attempt to understand why some behaviors (like fashion, religion and sports), from an evolutionary perspective, seem to make no sense, but somehow or other, are found to be very common in human societies. Dawkins was looking for a word to describe the concept and by toying with the Greek word “mimeme” (“imitation”) and the English word “gene” came up with “meme”.



Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explains that the word “meme” migrated online in the early 1990s when Mike Godwin observed another recurring behavioral pattern—how every Usenet discussion eventually leads to labeling of posters or their ideas as “similar to Nazis” or “Hitler-like”.  This gave rise to a new definition where a(n internet) meme stands for a "piece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission”.


Currently memes are performing another evolutionary function from the one described by Dawkins: they potentially offer an antidote to seriousness through lightheartedness and amusement. Not all memes—and jokes in general—have the same effect; some may miss the mark, or even increase negative affect.


For all that, in present circumstances—especially in Croatia, my home country, which was hit this morning by an earthquake in the midst of all this—, I’ll rather focus on memes’ therapeutic humorous purposes and relief.


Usually, memes are shared within internet subgroups (like Usenet boards) and they occupy niches. This is not the case with many Coronavirus memes. They are shared and understood by many considering that we all here are part of the in-group and share common references.


I’d say that next to making us laugh, they also remind us that we are all in this together.


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Hello, home office!

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Arnold Schwarzenegger helping us get through difficult times again (Hi there, Whiskey and Lulu)

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Introverts be like

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Summer 2020

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Summer 2020

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And kudos to all my students and colleagues who are marching on

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©2019 by Morana Lukač.