How to speak meme

By Miles Klee

Every subculture has its slang, perfectly suited to its own needs and tailored to keep outsiders at a comfortable remove. Over time, this vernacular becomes an efficient means of identification within the clique; communities want to know at a glance who belongs and who does not—especially in the crowded and disjointed space of the internet.

Anyone lurking the meme feeds of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or Instagram will at once notice that this self-selecting group of digital creators and archivists are almost uniquely disposed to mutant language. It is, along with the basically anti-comedic humor prevalent in these circles, perhaps the largest hurdle for a meme novice to overcome. A few terms are obvious devolutions of basic English terms (dogs become “doggos,” and puppies “puppers”), while certain initialisms (“omg” and “smh” and “lol”) are common enough elsewhere. More difficult to parse are the words whose meanings you think you already know. 

Therefore, while acknowledging that this is a doomed endeavor insofar as any glossary of transient, ever-changing vocabulary would be, we present this guide to idiomatic memespeak. Some of these newer expressions are surely on the way out, while several older ones have demonstrated unusual staying power—but all of them, at one point or another, carried deep connotative power. Beware, however, of deploying a piece of jargon that seems to be in vogue. Any usage of these phrases as defined can still invite derision and abuse, since infighting about the basic parameters of meme culture is itself a vital aspect of the culture.

aesthetic (n.) Sure, “aesthetic” can refer to a general palette of visual or artistic appeal, but when meme kids say it, they typically mean pastel neon, pre-1999 graphics, Japanese text, and vaporwave music. Which is to say, one very specific aesthetic.

when ya gotta make the kid live up to being the meme he is but he's gotta be aesthetic at the same time

— Courtney Sousa (@thatonetrashkid) June 1, 2016

areferential (adj.) Where Generation X was perfectly content to quote The Simpsons at each other ad infinitum, the meme generation wants content without stable reference points. The ideal answer to the question “Where’s that meme from?” is “Nowhere.”

i got some of those dank memes on deck. hmu if you are trying to fill the overarching void in your life with areferential humorless trash.

— Miguel Bibanco (@miguelbibanco) May 16, 2016

autistic (adj.) Because much of meme culture is a hangover from 4chan’s heyday, its hardcore proponents retain some of the message board’s unfortunate penchant for heavily stigmatized epithets—in this case, the suggestion of a mental/social disorder. One is generally branded “autistic” for improperly processing advanced irony, behaving obsessively, or reacting to provocation with anything other than detached amusement (and sometimes even for that). More broadly, it conveys a lack of understanding of memes. N.B. the noun form: “autist.”

There are 3 genders:
And Autist

— Not Felix (@Sherlock_Scout) May 22, 2016

ayy lmao (interj.) Originally associated with fake-looking aliens, this phrase, which includes the popular initialism “lmao” for “laughing my ass off,” has come to signify a sarcastic, almost rueful laughter as compared to a standalone “lmao.”

Ayy lmao I'm doing marching band :)

— dani (@bulletsdani) May 31, 2016

af (adv.) “As fuck.”

Spongebob is not funny and the memes with caveman spongebob are autistic.. And that one Mr Krabs meme was gay af. Someone had to say it…

— Shawn tha God (@WowsofuckinEDGE) June 1, 2016

bae (n.) Yeah, yeah, even your grandmother knows what “bae” means. But more than just a significant other, “bae” has come to signify any beloved—in any form.

Beach date with bae ??

— PIZZA (@thepizzafacts) May 31, 2016

cancer (n.) Just as memes “go viral”—though no one really says that anymore, do they?—misinterpretations of or misinformation about their provenance and significance can metastasize in the internet corpus, causing untold damage. Such “cancer” spreads through social media channels, corrupting and killing memes. This glossary could be considered a prime example. Though, as with “autistic,” “cancer” is mostly just a synonym for “bad.”

this new spongebob meme is cancer

— ️ (@Mastour) May 31, 2016

cuck (n.) Shortened form of “cuckold” popularized by Donald Trump supporters attacking his Republican rivals (or “cuckservatives”), and perhaps the most intriguing recent example of appropriated slang. An insult that hints at the target’s impotence and air of denial.

Police: I still don't understand, why did you send a threat to the guy from Smash Mouth?
Me: *rolling eyes* It's called a meme, you cuck.

— ♥Effeminate Goblin♥ (@Pigbog) June 1, 2016

daddy (n.) A loaded, sexual term of endearment that expresses deference to a dominant, appealing, typically male character. BDSM overtones, though occasionally used in semi-platonic admiration.

@Pontifex fuck me in the popemobile daddy

— Bryce Mills (@brycevmills) February 13, 2016

dank (adj.) Essentially the opposite of “autistic” or “cancer,” anything “dank” is accepted as good, funny, important, and smart. Qualities which, in the meme scene, strongly correlate to obscurity and originality—and, not uncommonly, sheer incomprehensibility.

"Daddy how did you meet Mummy?"

"Well child I first @'d sadthatcher69 in 2015 with a dank meme and the rest is on my timehop"

— Harry Seaton (@harryseaton) May 31, 2016

dead (adj.) When a meme has reached the “normies” (see below), it is “dead,” done, kaput, and of no further use to the meme vanguard. One can also declare oneself “dead” if one finds a dank meme incapacitatingly hilarious, while the meme elite, isolated and alienated from all but their screens, often describe themselves as “dead inside.”

watch out for my overwatch fanart in 2025 when its a dead meme

— Bob (@USC_Hana) June 3, 2016

edgy (adj.) While “edginess” has long been associated with a kind of dangerous cool, “edgy” in current parlance functions as a sardonic put-down. After all, nothing can shock a true connoisseur of the internet.

wow ur so cool and edgy

— ice cream queen (@josettewould) May 31, 2016

it me/me IRL/same (interj.) There are, to be sure, various nuances differentiating the uses of “it me,” “me IRL,” and “same,” but in practice, they are virtually interchangeable. Each is a mode of reaction to an especially relatable meme, and each says “I too have felt this mood or state of mind.”

me irl

— boo (@idiot_teen) May 31, 2016

fam (n.) Short for “family,” assimilated from the lexicon of Black Twitter, most notably observed in the sales pitches of SoundCloud rappers (“Check out my mixtape, fam.”) Your entire collection of online friends and followers may be considered fam, though the word can also be used with an individual.

why steal my tweets when u can steal my life and kill me fam

— gary from teen mom (@garyfromteenmom) June 1, 2016

-fag (suffix) Another unfortunate 4chan holdover, the “-fag” suffix has lost most of its homophobic bile and can instead substitute for “fan” or “devotee” in connection with as in “memefag,” “Trumpfag,” and “artfag.” Problematic, as a Tumblrfag might say.

Tfw i might very well be an edgy "vapefag" soon enough.. Dreadful thought..

— Ragnokos (@Ragnokos) May 17, 2016

fire (adj.) Probably the closest analogue to the overplayed “viral” right now, though it also refers to a particular conflagration of “dankness.” The fire emoji is a customary equivalent. To be fire is what it once colloquially meant to be on fire. N.B. that any fire preceded by “dumpster” or “trash” is what we once called a “clusterfuck.” 

if the video for a rap song includes a corner store then the track is fire, flat out

— SadeVEVO (@fillegrossiere) May 31, 2016

forced (adj.) Meme archivists place a high value on all-natural, organically harvested memes—again, memes that seem to come from nowhere. Memes that appear to originate from impure, untrusted sources—or engender a suspicious amount of repetition, as if someone is trying too hard to make the joke stick—are “forced.”

all memes are forced. memes are a dead meme. can we come to terms with that.

— Sam (@solion1) May 31, 2016

heck off (v.) A charmingly and awkwardly softened version of “fuck off.”

Heck off, Google

— Zach (@TBG_HapticNoise) May 29, 2016

irony (n.) A rhetorical strategy by which one manages to say the opposite of what one means. In the context of memes, that just means that nothing should be taken at face value and no one is ever quite sure how earnest anyone else is being, nor of any intended subtext.

oscar isaac's dance from Ex Machina becoming a decontextualized meme is about eight levels of irony beyond safe limits.

— rown the lowscoreman (@RowanKaiser) June 1, 2016

lit (adj.) If music and memes can be fire, then parties and communities can be “lit,” which is to say marked by boisterous, enjoyable, and sometimes outlandish activity.

New menu, uniforms, AND chairs. Applebee's is lit.

— ҠΛĿƐY DΛИĪƐĿ (@kaley_daniel) May 28, 2016

mad (adj.) Someone is “mad” online if they can be proved to have any demonstrable stake in anything whatsoever.

Life is a series of getting mad about hot takes and then you die

— the percolator (@grabmybutstick) June 1, 2016

meme (n.) Any discrete or replicable piece of (audio)visual content that can be packaged in the confines of a website or social media account—and, therefore, explained or argued about.

Dad: What is a meme?
Me: *turns around completely* ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

— KrazyMonkey✨ ツ (@YTKrazyMonkey) May 28, 2016

mom/dad (n.) Because willed immaturity is part and parcel of the meme life, certain respected public figures can be designated as “mom” or “dad,” depending on gender.

hillary is my mom and bernie is my dad, trump is "uncle trump"

— brøseph (@on3ness) May 24, 2016

no chill (n.) Though one cannot exactly possess “chill,” the aspect of unruffled, ambivalent calm, one can be said to have “no chill” if one persists in endless trolling, antagonism, or other malicious endeavors. In other words, you can’t leave well enough alone.


— ‏ㅤ (@britneyvibes) May 31, 2016

normie (n.) Normies are the meme elite’s sworn enemies, and guess what? If you’re reading this glossary, you fit the bill. Another fitting definition of the “normie” is anyone who uses their real name or face on social media (rather than tweeting from anonymous accounts with anime avatars) and has an active LinkedIn account. The normie is someone who uses the internet for practical, tawdry tasks like banking or booking hotels, with no deeper understanding or appreciation for memes, and their involvement in a meme’s life cycle can only hasten an already speedy demise. Normies also constitute the vast, mainstream majority of people online, which contributes to meme kids’ stated grief over their corrupting touch and pervasiveness. When the meme revolution comes, the normies will be first against the wall. 

The Normiefication of Meme Terminology

— Viet Cong thirster™ (@cooterthug) May 6, 2016

post- (prefix) Just as music genres and human epochs are defined by what they came after (“post-punk,” “post-industrial”), memes and meme aesthetics are perceived to follow from previous meme movements.

@Cernovich We may not live in a post-racial society, but thanks to Barack Obama, we live in a post-Pepe society.

— ]|[ Incitatus ]|[ (@ConsulIncitatus) June 1, 2016

rare (adj.) A peculiar quirk in the so-called meme economy is the rule of scarcity. Because dank memes are so “rare” and endangered, their discovery by the normies is all the more devastating. Those who can reliably dig up rare memes to share with their fam, meanwhile, are a noble breed.

very rare good meme on Facebook

— nonexistent eyebrows (@freespiritw0lf) May 31, 2016

roast (v.) To mercilessly and endlessly mock someone or something. If a roast is successful enough, it may become a group effort, or even go on for months.

it's that time of year when friends roast your back tattoo (that you got at 18)

— please, don't (@bananalise) June 1, 2016

salty (adj.) Even though they can occasionally turn nasty, most meme wars are all in good, pointless fun, conducted between many tenacious devil’s advocates. Woe to the participant who turns “salty,” either going on the extreme defensive or attempting more personal wounds because they are genuinely pissed or feel they’ve been made to look foolish.

i will never stop being salty at how much takumi has been reduced to a stupid meme by the fandom lol

— xand❤️@fef zine hell (@kapymui) June 1, 2016

shitpost (n. or v.) A “shitpost” can take many forms, but by and large, it is a meme or reaction to same that is poorly articulated, unintelligent, useless, redundant, deliberately offensive, or a transparent attempt to derail a thread. The variant, “shitlord,” applied to shitposting people, carries stronger hints of bigotry.

reminder right after you are born your body is rotting slowly every day

so waste no time

shitpost until you decay

— shoe (@shoe0nhead) May 30, 2016

-wave (suffix) Any concept can become a genre or aesthetic with “-wave” attached.

o shit @jemangedesbebes waddup lol #memewave

— jen hill (@gin_hell) May 18, 2016

whom (pron.) — Purposeful perversion of “who,” skewering the pretensions of proper grammar, for which the meme crew has little use.

Whom doin some beers tonight

— 1994 Subaru Outback (@Sadieisonfire) June 1, 2016

woke (adj.) To be “woke,” again per the black communities where the term gained cachet, is to be aware of the wider world in its countless intricacies—and of what’s truly important in society. Memes, then, by their very nature, can pretty much never be woke.

when u post a woke meme on insta and hella followers come out of the woodwork to express their wokeness with you

— dj boolsheviks (@djsweatydank) May 29, 2016