Although the context made it immediately clear what "meme" meant in the blogosphere -- a pattern or concept for a blog post that many people copied and used simultaneously (like "Thursday Thirteen" or "Friday Skywatch"), I do not remember ever having seen the word "meme" before I encountered it in blogs this past year.
I wondered if perhaps it was related to the concept of schemata from psychology. A schemata is a mental principle or structure around which an individual organizes their experiences in order to make sense of them.
Yesterday I searched the various dictionaries in our house, looking for the word "meme." It did not exist in the 1941 Webster's Collegiate Dictionary that I inherited from my mother. [A really wonderful dictionary that even includes the meanings of common English first names - which was how I learned that both the first and middle names on my birth certificate meant "a lily".] The word could also not be found in my prized Random House Unabridged Dictionary from 1983. [Even at 50 percent off I spent more on that then any other book I've ever purchased, especially after adjusting for inflation.] Even my husband's American Heritage Dictionary from 1991 does not contain the word.
Today, I took up the question on the computer, beginning with the Merriam Webster digital dictionary John got me for my birthday just a few years ago. [There's a hard back bound dictionary that came with the CD, but it's in my office 15 miles away.] Sure enough, the word meme appears in my digital dictionary, which states that a meme is "an idea, behavior, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture" and that it originated in 1976, from the word mimesis which means imitation or mimicry. The word meme also appears in French where it means "same." The phrase "tout de meme" in French means "all the same" and its used the same way we'd use the phrase as a disclaimer at the beginning of a sentence, a synonym for "nevertheless."
A bit more exploration on the Internet, reveals that "meme" in its current American usage was coined by British, evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins considered meme to be the cultural analogy of "gene" the biological transmitter of information.
Richard Dawkins's [sic] term for an idea considered as a replicator, especially with the connotation that memes parasitise [sic] people into propagating them much as viruses do.
Memes can be considered the unit of cultural evolution. Ideas can evolve in a way analogous to biological evolution. Some ideas survive better than others; ideas can mutate through, for example, misunderstandings; and two ideas can recombine to produce a new idea involving elements of each parent idea.
The term is used especially in the phrase "meme complex" denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organised belief system, such as a religion. Source: meme. Dictionary.com. The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing. Denis Howe. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/meme (accessed: July 05, 2008).
Further perusal of the memes on the Internet, expands the concept of meme in two directions: 1) a phrase, idea, image, video, etc. that "goes viral" and is transmitted all over the Internet, replicated in thousands or even millions of places; and 2) an organizing framework, set of questions, or task that bloggers borrow and use to express themselves through a standardized formula.
The first form of meme appears to date back to 1996, to the early World Wide Web, and one of the first memes of this sort was the "dancing baby" a simple animated gif file. The television series Ally McBeal contributed to the spread of this meme. I was unable to find similar information about the early blog memes, but one or two blogs or weblogs can be dated back to 1994, with the term "weblog" being coined in 1997, and shortened to "blog" in 1999. The first blogging software and hosting sites appeared in 1998 and 1999. So its likely that the first blogging memes appeared about the same time.
More than you ever wanted to know about memes!!