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Memes are catchy little ideas that people pass around, modify and add to. The word "meme" was first coined by Richard Dawkins to refer to any idea in a culture that can may be passed from one individual to another.
But these days "meme" tends to mean something a tad more specific. With the internet, silly memes have spread like wildfire in the form of catch phrases and viral videos, and a lot of them involve animals. Because let's face it, everything is funnier when it comes from the mouth of somebody furry.
Here are a few of my favorite examples:
Hypnotoad is a minor recurring character in the television cartoon series Futurama. Its origins are obscure but it has the ability to mesmerize and control people, and appears on a show that show noting but hypnotoad sitting still with moving pupils and making a droning sound. The hypnotoad has the ability to get anyone to do what it wants.
Catchphrases include: "All Glory to Hypnotoad".
Long Cat (2006)
Originating on the internet board 2Chan, long cat began simply as an amusing picture of a cat held up so that her body is stretch out (see right).
Since then long cat has been exaggerated and photo-shopped in to take the place of large or long objects from Godzilla to a flagpole.
Long cat's real name is Shiroi and she lives in Japan.
Catchphrases include: "Long cat is long".
See also: Wide Dog.
Piano Playing Cat (2007)
There have been some other well-known piano cats such as "Keyboard Cat" Fatso (2009).
Hipster Kitty (2009)
There are a wide variety of 'advice giving animal' memes. But one of the best is the kitty that represents hipster uber-cool and ennui. No matter what you have done, hipster kitty did it first, better and more authentically. Hipster Kitty is based on a painting by Craig Wheat. The original artwork shows the whole cat and was called "Allison".
Hipster Kiitty says stuff like: "I donated to Haiti... before the earthquake", "Get mistaken for hobo... best day ever" and "4chan was better... before it was on the internet"
OMG Cat (2010)
OMG (Oh my God) Cat seems amazed, but Chocolate was actually suffering from a dislocated jaw. Once you learn that it isn't really funny anymore. Her video was originally posted by her Japanese owner seeking advice about what to do.
Catchphrases include: "OMG cat can't unsee the horror"
Chemistry Cat (2011)
Chemistry or science cat is a white Persian of unknown origin--probably a stock photo site although no photographer has claimed credit.
The cat is used for a range of science puns like "Is silicon the same in Spanish? ... Si" or "Chemistry cat love moles".
Honey Badger (2011)
The honey badger is really pretty bad-ass. This meme comes from this voice over by Randall. The original footage was developed by National Geographic, but probably with a less amusing narration.
The honey badger's catch phrases include: "The honey badger don't care" and "honey badger don't give a shit".
And you have to admit, the honey badger is kind of impressive.... Since 'breaking through' he has appeared on many T-shirts and in his own TV advertisement for pistachios.
Nyan Cat (2011)
"Nyan cat" originates from a simple animated video of a cat with a pop-tart body flying through space with rainbow streaming behind. The video was created by Chris Torres a.k.a. PRguitarman.
Subsequently nyan cat has spawned a game, videos (like real life NC) and the ubiquitous T-shirts. This meme was nominated for a number of pop culture awards in 2011, such as Mashable (viral video category).