10/18/2012 04:31 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2012

Contest: What's A Meme?

Today we kick off our first contest: Define "meme" without giving an example of a meme.

This would seem to be an easy task, but in reality it isn't. Absolutely not one person I've asked can do it without resorting to things like, "You know it when you see it," or, "It's like... you know..." or "Kim Kardashian?" Examples are not definitions.

Urban Dictionary has a very long and, for that platform, serious stab at it:

  • 1 : an idea, belief or belief system, or pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance (as by parents to children) or horizontally by cultural acquisition (as by peers, information media, and entertainment media)
  • 2 : a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means; a parasitic code, a virus of the mind especially contagious to children and the impressionable
  • 3 : the fundamental unit of information, analogous to the gene in emerging evolutionary theory of culture

  • - meme pool (n.) : all memes of a culture or individual

  • - memetic (adj.) : relating to memes

  • - memetics (n.) : the study of memes
  • 4 : in blogspeak, an idea that is spread from blog to blog
  • 5 : an internet information generator, especially of random or contentless information.

The problem is, under this definition, everything is a meme. For example, a "pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance or horizontally by cultural acquisition" includes just about everything from toilet training to spoken and written language. Is saying "Hi," a meme? Is shaving a meme? Is having a pet a meme? Is wearing shoes on your feet instead of on your ears a meme? Is walking upright instead of on all fours a meme? Is every television show or YouTube video a meme? Is love a meme? How about hate? How about anchovies? Or Diet Pepsi? Entities that include everything mean nothing.

Is asking "What's a Meme" a meme? Or asking "Is asking 'What's A Meme' a meme" a meme?

Another Urban Dictionary entrant defines Meme as something that is "Used to give a bit of pseudo-academic gravitas to stupid viral shit." This seems to me to be closer to the truth, except that you can't simply write something off that is used so much by so many intelligent people, or by people who see themselves as intelligent, or are good at at least feigning intelligence.

So what's a meme? Why is "binders full of women" now elevated to the position of the leading meme of the day, rather than simply another example of what happens to a panicked mind that, under intense pressure, is forced into revealing itself? Is it good to be a meme? Or not? Or both good and bad? Are "good" and "bad" memes?

I will send a bottle of something fizzy (your choice) to the winner of this contest. Unless you feel that contests themselves aren't contests but actually memes, in which case you may be right but will get no champagne.

You may either answer by commenting or by sending your thoughts to Good luck!

Oh, and by the way, if your answer to "what's a meme" is in itself a meme you win a napkin autographed by me, which, when transmitted by snail mail, will itself become a meme.

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