Meme, an image or video that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, is a term that was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
In his 1976 book 'The Selfish Gene', Dawkins introduced the concept of a meme as a unit of human culture that is spread from person to person, comparing it to a replicator - the theoretical base unit in the gene-centric idea of evolution. He wrote: "We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. 'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene'. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme."
He added that the word could be thought of as being related to memory and the French word même (meaning 'same') and should be pronounced to rhyme with 'cream'.
Internet memes emerged in the 1990s with the likes of the Dancing Baby, LOLcats and Success Kid. In an interview with Wired, Dawkins said he had no issue with the internet's hijacking of the word and highlighted that when he created the concept, he likened memes to a virus, spreading from person to person.
Source: Oxford English Dictionary | The Selfish Gene | Wired article