What are Memes?

Memes are something all of us might have seen at one point or another on the Internet. However, as surprising as it may be, the first occurrence of the word “meme” had nothing to do with the Internet. The word “meme” was originally coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene” to describe any piece of popular culture such as phrase, body motion or any idea in general that spreads from person to person. He compared a meme to a virus in a person’s brain that leads to the propagation of the idea. An Internet meme is thus an extension of the same and refers to any piece of information such as an image or a video that spreads virally across the Internet. This article looks at 10 popular Internet memes and trends and their origins.

Dolan Duck (Uncle Dolan)

This Internet phenomenon began in the summer of 2010 originally featuring a comic strip of intentionally poorly drawn sketches of Disney characters by Finnish artist Sakolut.  The main character, Dolan Duck, is a play on the Disney character Donald Duck. Its rise to fame was in 2011 when YouTuber SweederLander released a web series titled “The Uncle Dolan Show” featuring various comics found on the Internet in the form of dialogues. Over the course of the year and throughout 2012, Dolan Duck memes became increasingly popular through the website ‘4chan’ and Reddit. Search interest in “Dolan” memes rose significantly in 2012 and reached its peak the same year. As time went on, spoofs of other characters also became popular employing the same style of poorly drawn characters and text bubbles with broken English. Popular ones include bogs binny (Bugs Bunny), Gooby (Goofy), spoderman (Spiderman), captin murica’ (Captain America) and botman (Batman). Keep in mind though that most of these memes are NSFW, so proceed with caution.


Planking was a trend that involved lying on the ground; face down with arms by the side. The name came up, as the position was analogous to a wooden plank. The trend quickly became popular as a huge number of users online posted their attempt at planking in weird and bizarre locales. Planking became a sensation in 2011, but its roots go back to 2008 in England where it was not as popular and called the lying down game. Google Trends show search interest in planking at its peak in late 2011 and early 2012. The popularity of planking kept increasing as people found more and more unusual locales for their ‘plank’. Some of the most outrageous feats of planking include the Taj Mahal, the engine of an aircraft, on top of a helicopter, on top of signboards and many more.

Credit: By Mrinfobox (Me) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat is the name given to a particular cat whose real name is Tardar Sauce according to her owner Tabatha Bundesen. The original picture was uploaded to Reddit by Tabatha’s brother and immediately exploded, being edited, photoshopped and reposted on Reddit, becoming viral at once. Grumpy Cat memes soon became popular and dozens were posted and shared all over social media. Eventually, Grumpy Cat became so popular that by late 2012, Grumpy Cat merchandise was available and in 2013, even a book on Grumpy Cat was published.

Charlie Bit Me

Although not very popular today, ‘Charlie Bit Me’ is a video uploaded in May 2007 that went viral. The video features two brothers Harry and Charlie, who bites his elder brother Harry’s finger making him scream in pain. The video managed to gather almost 1 million views by the end of the same year. By 2009, it had become the 4th most watched YouTube video of all time. Currently, it has around 800 million views on YouTube. Since its original upload, there have been countless spoofs and parodies of the video.

The original Charlie bit my finger video.


To the common person, this is nothing but a techno song by DJ Darude released in the year 1999 but an avid YouTuber or a gamer will quickly identify this as the best/only song on the internet. It all started in year 2007, when GameStream, a YouTuber used this song as the background when playing Call of Duty 4. This started the spread of the song and its subsequent identity as the go-to background song for any game playthrough or as a pre-workout song. As the number of videos in which the song was used increased, increasing number of new users wanted to know the name of the song. The question was asked so many times that as time went on every song was falsely identified as ‘Darude-Sandstorm’ and the answer to every question inquiring about the name of a song had one answer: ‘Darude-Sandstorm’. The trend picked up greatly on YouTube, as there were countless comments and spoofs of Darude-Sandstorm. As a result, on April Fool’s Day 2015, YouTube started giving search suggestions for the song ‘Darude-Sandstorm’ and a Sandstorm button as well so you can listen to ‘Darude-Sandstorm’ in any video.

The infamous Darude-Sandstorm

Credit: Self

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Although not exactly a meme, this particular challenge is a movement to raise ALS awareness. The challenge involves drenching oneself with a bucket of ice-cold water and posting their videos on social media. The challenger then nominates 3 more people to accept the challenge within 24 hours or donate to an ALS charitable organisation or both. Although the origin of the Ice Bucket Challenge is unclear but according to Forbes.com, Paul Frates, an ALS patient himself, decided to raise awareness about ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and bring it to the attention of philanthropists all over the world. And that’s exactly what he did. It reached its peak in August 2014, with over hundreds of celebrities taking part in the challenge and by August 26th 2014, donations to the ALS Association alone had reached a whopping $88.5 million. Estimates place the total amount of donations to be well over $100 million.

Bill Gates taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Doge Memes

No, that is not a spelling mistake. That is exactly how it’s spelt. Doge memes became a sensation in 2010 when Japanese teacher Atsuko Sato uploaded pictures of her Shiba Inu dog. Quickly enough, many memes were uploaded of the dog with captions in different colors in the Comic Sans MS font. Like other popular memes, Doge memes also have their own grammar. Words such as ‘very’, ‘such’, ‘so’, ‘much’ and ‘many’ are the core 5 words along with the exclamation ‘wow’. Doge memes reached the peak of their popularity in late 2014 with dozens of memes being posted every day. Now if you’re wondering how to pronounce ‘doge’, although it’s not set in stone and there is no one correct pronunciation, the accepted pronunciation is ‘doh-gue’ rhyming with rogue.

Doge meme
Credit: Self

Rick Rolling

This meme is one of the most popular forms of trickery and deceit on the Internet. It uses a standard bait and switch technique, by attracting the unsuspecting user through a catchy or relevant title and then leading them to Rick Astley’s 1987 smash hit ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Although, as with most memes the origin is unclear, it’s believed to have originated on 4chan. It’s most commonly deemed as the successor to the ‘duckroll’ meme in which the user opens the link to find a picture of a duck on wheels with the title ‘duckroll’. The first occurrence of the meme took place on 4chan as a link to the then very popular game Grand Theft Auto IV. Since then, rick rolling has spread everywhere. The original video has gathered over a 100 million views. On April Fools’ Day 2008, YouTube decided to rick roll all of its users by redirecting every link on its homepage to the song. When Rick Astley himself was asked about the popular phenomenon, he didn’t seem to be bothered and said that it was the beauty of the Internet that odd things like this get picked up and become so popular.

Rick Astley's hit single 'Never Gonna Give You Up', the song behind the Rickroll.

Harlem Shake

No surprise here. Almost everyone has heard of, seen this, or better yet, done the Harlem Shake. The Harlem Shake is an Internet trend (not directly related to the dance style of the same name) featuring videos in which one individual begins dancing on his own to the song Harlem Shake by Baauer while the others in the video are oblivious to this and continue with their work. About 15 seconds in, as the bass drops, the video cuts to everyone wildly dancing to the song.  The song used was originally uploaded to YouTube in August 2012 and was met with general positive reception from electronic music producers. The first video of people dancing to Harlem Shake was uploaded by YouTuber Filthy_Frank which featured 4 people in latex suits. Since then, countless varieties of the dance have been uploaded and the meme has exploded worldwide.

Do the Harlem Shake!!

Rage Faces/Rage Comics

Rage Comics are one of the most important parts of the meme community on the Internet. Rage comics often feature a series of poorly drawn characters used to convey certain emotions. The first rage comics were a set of 4-paneled images conveying a situation and the reaction of the characters, usually anger or rage. As time went on, more and more characters appeared to depict the wide range of emotions including and not limited to anger, happiness, sadness, scepticism, irritation, disappointment. The number of rage faces, as they are called, is steadily increasing by the day. Rage comics are important even though their popularity is decreasing because they laid the foundation for most of the modern memes involving other image macros to depict emotions rather than drawn sketches. Of late, there has been lots of talk throughout the Internet to bring back the era of Rage Comics. So, if you want to know more about Rage faces and the different characters, you can find the official list of the rage faces here. 


So those were 10 popular memes and trends and their origins. Everyday, new memes become popular and trends become viral. So, if you enjoyed this article, be sure to keep an eye out on social media for more memes and other popular phenomena. After all, this article only represents only a miniscule fraction of the thousands of memes on the Internet. A good starting point for  is Reddit. Mobile users may also try apps such as 9GAG to view and share memes.