The Colin McEnroe Show
3:06 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

Will Print Dictionaries Survive?

The word "meme" is a great example of a meme and of a word that was very quickly and totally absorbed into the language.

Thinker Richard Dawkins proposed the word in 1976 to refer to a unit of information that can be passed around. My guess is that it sat pretty quietly until the 1990s until it became a perfect way to talk about the spread of ideas across the Internet. We would eventually coin another term for this: "going viral."

Meme is now in pretty much every dictionary. Occasionally I still encounter people who are not familiar with it, but not very often. There is even a loose discipline known as memetics, the study of memes and how they spread.

So "meme" is an example of a word that won the very game to which it refers. Its status is not in doubt. But it's an exception. Modern language is cluttered with words and phrases that haven't made the grade. Who decides what gets to join the King's English, when there is no king?

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