The Memetic Lexicon - must read for psyops

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The Memetic Lexicon - must read for psyops

Postby Hugh Manatee Wins » Tue Dec 16, 2008 5:12 pm

This Memetic Lexicon best explains the transmission of culture whether as advertising or psyops or religion etc. All the same thing.

This Memetic Lexicon is simple, comprehensive, and accurate.

Read the whole site, too. The scary site name is a hook just for memory, not being eeee-vil.

Memetic Lexicon

Author: Glenn Grant 1990
HTMLized by Anders Sandberg 1994
Altered and expanded by David McFadzean 1995-1999
Translated to spanish by José Mª Filgueiras 2000

AUTO-TOXIC: Dangerous to itself. Highly auto-toxic memes are usually self-limiting because they promote the destruction of their hosts (such as the Jim Jones meme; any military indoctrination meme-complex; any "martyrdom" meme). (GMG) (See exo-toxic.)

BAIT: The part of a meme-complex that promises to benefit the host (usually in return for replicating the complex). The bait usually justifies, but does not explicitly urge, the replication of a meme-complex. (Donald Going, quoted by Hofstadter.) Also called the reward co-meme. (In many religions, "Salvation" is the bait, or promised reward; "Spread the Word" is the hook. Other common bait co-memes are "Eternal Bliss", "Security", "Prosperity", "Freedom".) (See hook; threat; infection strategy.)

BELIEF-SPACE: Since a person can only be infected with and transmit a finite number of memes, there is a limit to their belief space (Henson). Memes evolve in competition for niches in the belief-space of individuals and societies.

CENSORSHIP: Any attempt to hinder the spread of a meme by eliminating its vectors. Hence, censorship is analogous to attempts to halt diseases by spraying insecticides. Censorship can never fully kill off an offensive meme, and may actually help to promote the meme's most virulent strain, while killing off milder forms.

CO-MEME: A meme which has symbiotically co-evolved with other memes, to form a mutually-assisting meme-complex. Also called a symmeme. (GMG)

CULT : A sociotype of an auto-toxic meme-complex, composed of membots and/or memeoids. (GMG) Characteristics of cults include: self-isolation of the infected group (or at least new recruits); brainwashing by repetitive exposure (inducing dependent mental states); genetic functions discouraged (through celibacy, sterilization, devalued family) in favor of replication (proselytizing); and leader-worship ("personality cult"). (Henson.)

DORMANT: Currently without human hosts. The ancient Egyptian hieroglyph system and the Gnostic Gospels are examples of "dead" schemes which lay dormant for millennia in hidden or untranslatable texts, waiting to re-activate themselves by infecting modern archeologists. Some obsolete memes never become entirely dormant, such as Phlogiston theory, which simply mutated from a "belief" into a "quaint historical footnote."

EARWORM: "A tune or melody which infects a population rapidly." (Rheingold); a hit song. (Such as: "Don't Worry, Be Happy".) (f. German, ohrwurm=earworm.)

EXO-TOXIC: Dangerous to others. Highly exo-toxic memes promote the destruction of persons other than their hosts, particularly those who are carriers of rival memes. (Such as: Nazism, the Inquisition, Pol Pot.) (See meme-allergy.) (GMG)

HISTAMEME: See vaccime. (Morgan)

HOOK : The part of a meme-complex that urges replication. The hook is often most effective when it is not an explicit statement, but a logical consequence of the meme's content. (Hofstadter) (See bait, threat.)

HOST : A person who has been successfully infected by a meme. See infection, membot, memeoid.

IDEOSPHERE: The realm of memetic evolution, as the biosphere is the realm of biological evolution. The entire memetic ecology. (Hofstadter.) The health of an ideosphere can be measured by its memetic diversity.

IMMUNO-DEPRESSANT: Anything that tends to reduce a person's memetic immunity. Common immuno-depressants are: travel, disorientation, physical and emotional exhaustion, insecurity, emotional shock, loss of home or loved ones, future shock, culture shock, isolation stress, unfamiliar social situations, certain drugs, loneliness, alienation, paranoia, repeated exposure, respect for Authority, escapism, and hypnosis (suspension of critical judgment). Recruiters for cults often target airports and bus terminals because travelers are likely to be subject to a number of these immuno-depressants. (GMG) (See cult.)

IMMUNO-MEME: See vaccime. (GMG)

INFECTION: 1. Successful encoding of a meme in the memory of a human being. A memetic infection can be either active or inactive. It is inactive if the host does not feel inclined to transmit the meme to other people. An active infection causes the host to want to infect others. Fanatically active hosts are often membots or memeoids. A person who is exposed to a meme but who does not remember it (consciously or otherwise) is not infected. (A host can indeed be unconsciously infected, and even transmit a meme without conscious awareness of the fact. Many societal norms are transmitted this way.) (GMG)

2. Some memeticists have used `infection' as a synonym for `belief' (i.e. only believers are infected, non-believers are not). However, this usage ignores the fact that people often transmit memes they do not "believe in." Songs, jokes, and fantasies are memes which do not rely on "belief" as an infection strategy.

INFECTION STRATEGY: Any memetic strategy which encourages infection of a host. Jokes encourage infection by being humorous, tunes by evoking various emotions, slogans and catch-phrases by being terse and continuously repeated. Common infection strategies are "Villain vs. victim", "Fear of Death", and "Sense of Community". In a meme-complex, the bait co-meme is often central to the infection strategy. (See replication strategy; mimicry.) (GMG)

MEMBOT: A person whose entire life has become subordinated to the propagation of a meme, robotically and at any opportunity. (Such as many Jehovah's Witnesses, Krishnas, and Scientologists.) Due to internal competition, the most vocal and extreme membots tend to rise to top of their sociotype's hierarchy. A self-destructive membot is a memeoid. (GMG)

MEME: (pron. `meem') A contagious information pattern that replicates by symbiotically infecting human minds and altering their behavior, causing them to propagate the pattern. (Term coined by Dawkins, by analogy with "gene".) Individual slogans, catch-phrases, melodies, icons, inventions, and fashions are typical memes. An idea or information pattern is not a meme until it causes someone to replicate it, to repeat it to someone else. All transmitted knowledge is memetic. (Wheelis, quoted in Hofstadter.) (See meme-complex).

MEME-ALLERGY: A form of intolerance; a condition which causes a person to react in an unusually extreme manner when exposed to a specific semiotic stimulus, or `meme-allergen.' Exo-toxic meme-complexes typically confer dangerous meme-allergies on their hosts. Often, the actual meme-allergens need not be present, but merely perceived to be present, to trigger a reaction. Common meme-allergies include homophobia, paranoid anti-Communism, and porno phobia. Common forms of meme-allergic reaction are censorship, vandalism, belligerent verbal abuse, and physical violence. (GMG)

MEME-COMPLEX: A set of mutually-assisting memes which have co-evolved a symbiotic relationship. Religious and political dogmas, social movements, artistic styles, traditions and customs, chain letters, paradigms, languages, etc. are meme-complexes. Also called an m-plex, or scheme (Hofstadter). Types of co-memes commonly found in a scheme are called the: bait; hook; threat; and vaccime. A successful scheme commonly has certain attributes: wide scope (a paradigm that explains much); opportunity for the carriers to participate and contribute; conviction of its self-evident truth (carries Authority); offers order and a sense of place, helping to stave off the dread of meaninglessness. (Wheelis, quoted by Hofstadter.)

MEMEOID, or MEMOID: A person "whose behavior is so strongly influenced by a [meme] that their own survival becomes inconsequential in their own minds." (Henson) (Such as: Kamikazes, Shiite terrorists, Jim Jones followers, any military personnel). hosts and membots are not necessarily memeoids. (See auto-toxic; exo-toxic.)

MEMEPLEX: See meme-complex.

MEME POOL: The full diversity of memes accessible to a culture or individual. Learning languages and traveling are methods of expanding one's meme pool.

MEMETIC: Related to memes.

MEMETIC DRIFT: Accumulated mis-replications; (the rate of) memetic mutation or evolution. Written texts tend to slow the memetic drift of dogmas (Henson).

MEMETIC ENGINEER: One who consciously devises memes, through meme-splicing and memetic synthesis, with the intent of altering the behavior of others. Writers of manifestos and of commercials are typical memetic engineers. (GMG)

MEMETICIST: 1. One who studies memetics. 2. A memetic engineer. (GMG)

MEMETICS: The study of memes and their social effects.

MEMOTYPE: 1. The actual information-content of a meme, as distinct from its sociotype.

2. A class of similar memes. (GMG)

META-MEME: Any meme about memes (such as: "tolerance", "metaphor").

META-MEME, the: The concept of memes, considered as a meme itself.

MILLENNIAL MEME, the: Any of several currently-epidemic memes which predict catastrophic events for the year 2000, including the battle of Armageddon, the Rapture, the thousand-year reign of Jesus, etc. The "Imminent New Age" meme is simply a pan-denominational version of this. (Also called the `Endmeme.')

MIMICRY: An infection strategy in which a meme attempts to imitate the semiotics of another successful meme. Such as: pseudo-science (Creationism, UFOlogy); pseudo-rebelliousness (Heavy Metal); subversion by forgery (Situationist detournement). (GMG)

REPLICATION STRATEGY: Any memetic strategy used by a meme to encourage its host to repeat the meme to other people. The hook co-meme of a meme-complex. (GMG)

RETROMEME: A meme which attempts to splice itself into an existing meme-complex (example: Marxist-Leninists trying to co-opt other sociotypes). (GMG)


SCHEME: A meme-complex. (Hofstadter.)

SOCIOTYPE: 1. The social expression of a memotype, as the body of an organism is the physical expression (phenotype) of the gene (genotype). Hence, the Protestant Church is one sociotype of the Bible's memotype. 2. A class of similar social organisations. (GMG)

SYMMEME: See co-meme.

THREAT: The part of a meme-complex that encourages adherence and discourages mis-replication. ("Damnation to Hell" is the threat co-meme in many religious schemes.) (See: bait, hook, vaccime.) (Hofstadter)

TOLERANCE: A meta-meme which confers resistance to a wide variety of memes (and their sociotypes), without conferring meme-allergies. In its purest form, Tolerance allows its host to be repeatedly exposed to rival memes, even intolerant rivals, without active infection or meme-allergic reaction. Tolerance is a central co-meme in a wide variety of schemes, particularly "liberalism", and "democracy". Without it, a scheme will often become exo-toxic and confer meme-allergies on its hosts. Since schemes compete for finite belief-space, tolerance is not necessarily a virtue, but it has co-evolved in the ideosphere in much the same way as co-operation has evolved in biological ecosystems. (Henson.)

UTISM: UTism is short for 'us-versus-them-ism.' Dogmatic adherence to a belief system can create an 'us vs. them' mentality in the believer. The 'us' group consists of people who share our beliefs, and the 'them' group consists of those who hold conflicting beliefs. (KMO)

VACCIME: (pron. vak-seem) Any meta-meme which confers resistance or immunity to one or more memes, allowing that person to be exposed without acquiring an active infection. Also called an `immuno-meme.' Common immune-conferring memes are "Faith", "Loyalty", "Skepticism", and "tolerance". (See: meme-allergy.) (GMG.)

Every scheme includes a vaccime to protect against rival memes. For instance:

Conservatism: automatically resist all new memes.
Orthodoxy: automatically reject all new memes.
Science: test new memes for theoretical consistency and(where applicable) empirical repeatability; continually re-assess old memes; accept schemes only conditionally, pending future re:-assessment.
Radicalism: embrace one new scheme, reject all others.
Nihilism: reject all schemes, new and old.
New Age: accept all esthetically-appealing memes, new and old, regardless of empirical (or even internal) consistency; reject others. (Note that this one doesn't provide much protection.)
Japanese: adapt (parts of) new schemes to the old ones.

VECTOR: A medium, method, or vehicle for the transmission of memes. Almost any communication medium can be a memetic vector. (GMG)

VILLAIN VS. VICTIM: An infection strategy common to many meme-complexes, placing the potential host in the role of Victim and playing on their insecurity, as in: "the bourgeoisie is oppressing the proletariat" (Hofstadter). Often dangerously toxic to host and society in general. Also known as the "Us-and-Them" strategy. (See UTism.)


1. The original definition read "parasitically" instead of "symbiotically". Thanks to Tyson Vaughan for making the suggestion.
Share-Right (S), 1990, by Glenn Grant, PO Box 36 Station H, Montreal, Quebec, H3C 2K5. (You may reproduce this material, only if your recipients may also reproduce it, you do not change it, and you include this notice [see: threat]. If you publish it, send me a copy, okay?)
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a memetic glossary

Postby Hugh Manatee Wins » Sat Jan 17, 2009 2:29 am

Here's a memetic glossary from an activist website.

ABCNNBCBS - the increasingly blurred brand names for the same narrow stream of U.S. corporate filtered mass media. This is the delivery system for the advertising product that giant media corporations sell to the general public. This process used to occur primarily through overt advertising, increasingly however it has become a complex web of cross-marketing, branding and self-promotion among different tentacles of the same media empires.

advertising - the manipulation of collective desire for commercial interests. Over the last 20 years as it has grown to be nearly a $200 billion industry it has become the propaganda shell and dream life of modern consumer culture. (See Control Mythology)

articulating values crisis - a strategy in which radicals lay claim to common sense values and expose the fact that the system is out of alignment with those values

control meme- a meme used to marginalize, co-opt or limit the scale of social change ideas by institutionalizing a status quo bias into popular perception of events. The type of memes that RAND Corporation analysts and Pentagon information warfare experts spend countless hours and millions of dollars designing.

control mythology - the web of stories, symbols and ideas which define the dominant culture's sense of normal (including limiting our imagination of social change) and make people think the system is unchangeable.

confirmatory bias - psychological concept in which studies have shown people are more likely to accept/believe new information if it sounds like something they already believe.

defector syndrome- the tendency of radicals to self-marginalize by exhibiting their dissent is such a way that it only speaks to those who already share their beliefs.

direct action at the point(s) of assumption -actions whose goal is to re-frame issues and create infectious new political space by targeting underlyingassumptions

earth-centered - a political perspective through which one defines themselves and their actions in the context of the planet's ecological operating systems, biological/cultural diversity and efforts to re-center human society within the Earth's natural limits/cycles. An emerging term to draw links and build alliances between ecological identity politics, land based struggles, indigenous resistance, earth spirituality, agrarian folk wisdom and visions of sustainable, ecologically sane societies both past and future. (etc.) A politicized acceptance of the sacredness of living systems.

global crisis- the present time in the history of planet earth characterized by the systematic undermining of the planet's life support systems through industrial extraction, unlimited growth, the commodification of all life and emergence of global corporate rule. Symptoms include : accelerating loss of biological and cultural diversity, the deterioration of all ecosystems, the de-stabilization of global ecology (climate change, soil erosion, bio-contamination etc.) growing disparities between rich and poor, increased militarization, ongoing patterns of racism, classism and sexism and the spread of consumer monoculture. Part of the endgame of 200 years of industrial capitalism,
500 years of white supremacist colonization and 10,000 years of patriarchal domination.

image event - an experience, event or action which operates as a delivery system for smartMemes by creating new associations and meanings

meme- (pronounced meem) a unit of self-replicating cultural transmission (ex. ideas, slogans, melodies, symbols) which spreads virally from brain to brain. Word coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 from a Greek root meaning "to imitate" to draw the analogy with "gene". "A contagious information pattern" - Glenn Grant. A meme often operates as a container, anchor or carrier for a larger more complex story.

movement - a critical mass of people who share ideas, take collective action and build alternative institutions to create social change.

points of intervention - a place in a system, be it a physical system or a conceptual system (ideology, cultural assumption etc.) where action can be taken to effectively interrupt the system. Examples include point of production (factory) point of destruction, (logging road) point of consumption, (chain store) point of decision,(corporate HQ) point of assumption (culture/mythology) and point of potential (actions which makes alternatives real).

political space- the ability of an oppositional idea or critique of the dominant order to manifest itself and open up new revolutionary possibilities.

psychic break - the process or moment where people realize the system is out of alignment with their values.

psycho-geography - the intersection of physical landscape with cultural and symbolic landscapes. A framework for finding targets for direct action at the point of assumption.

smart meme - a designer meme which injects new infectious ideas into popular culture, contests established meaning (control memes) and facilitates popular re-thinking of assumptions. These are memes that act as containers for collaborative power, reveal creative possibilities for change and help grassroots social movements contest idea space.

subverter-an effective radical who works within the logic of the dominant culture to foster dissent, mobilize resistance and make fundamental social change imaginable

Values crisis- the disconnect between common sense values (justice, equality, democracy, ecological literacy) and the pathological values which underlie the global corporate system

Values shift -a recognition that the global crisis is the expression of pathological valueswhich we will need to change. An area of extreme difficulty to organize since people's values are very ingrained and the values arena is often appropriated by powerful reactionary traditions and institutions. (government, organized religion, patriarchal family etc.)

Xerxes- ancient Persian emperor who despite having the world's largest military force over extended himself and was defeated by the unity and creativity of the Greeks starting a long decline that led to the end of Persian dominance. A conceptual archetype for the fall of all empires. U.S.A. take note.
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Re: The Memetic Lexicon - must read for psyops

Postby Hugh Manatee Wins » Thu Dec 01, 2011 2:54 am
Andrew Chesterman

2000i. Memetics and translation strategies. Synapse 5, 1-17.


1. Memes

Translation Studies is a branch of memetics. This is a claim, a hypothesis. More specifically, it is an interpretive hypothesis: I claim that Translation Studies can be thus interpreted, and that this is a useful thing to do because it offers a new and beneficial way of understanding translation.

Memetics is the study of memes. So what is a meme? The latest Oxford English Dictionary defines it like this:

Meme: an element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.

The term was proposed and first used by Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene (1976). This was a popular book about genetics, about how the behaviour of organisms is influenced by the way genes seek to promote their own survival. Towards the end of the book, Dawkins introduced the notion of a meme as the cultural equivalent of the gene:

[A meme is] 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 classical friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’ or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’.
Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. (1976: 206; p. 192 in the 1989 edition)

The term has since been taken up by many scholars. The philosopher Daniel Dennett uses it in his attempts to explain consciousness (1991). The sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson uses it in his theory of gene-culture coevolution. One particularly interesting aspect of Wilson’s application of the meme concept is the way he links it to neurology. A meme, says Wilson, is “a node of semantic memory [as opposed to episodic memory] and its correlates in brain activity”. That is, a meme is both an “idea” and the corresponding set of “hierarchically arranged components of semantic memory, encoded by discrete neural circuits” (Wilson 1998: 149). This view suggests that memes exist not only in Popper’s World 2 (the subjective world) and World 3 (the world of objective ideas, expressed thoughts), but also in World 1 (the world of physical objects).

The most recent full-length treatment of memes is the book The Meme Machine by the psychologist Susan Blackmore (1999). One of the themes in Blackmore’s book is the evolution of memes, and their effect on the evolution of the brain. She suggests that both brains and language actually developed in order to spread memes: in other words, the cultural and even neural development of homo sapiens was to some extent meme-driven.

Memes were explictly brought into Translation Studies by Chesterman (1996, 1997), and independently by Vermeer (1997).

Memes, then, are everything you have learned by imitating other people — habits, jokes, ideas, songs... Memes spread like genes, they replicate, often with mutation. Some memes spread, and thus survive, better than others. Memes survive well if they are easily memorable, useful, sexy or emotive. Some memes tend to co-occur with others, in groups: these groups are called mememes or memeplexes. Examples are languages, religions, ideologies, scientific theories. Blackmore suggests that the very notion of a self may well be no more than a memeplex.

From a meme’s-eye view, human beings are just convenient and rather efficient machines for spreading memes, as memes engage in their Darwinian struggle for space and survival. Memes spread as people talk to each other, as they read books and listen to music — or as they attend a lecture. Memes also spread via translations, of course. In fact, this is really what the whole translation business is about: spreading memes from one place to another, making sure that they get safely across cultural borders. So Translation Studies is a way of studying memes and their transmission under particular circumstances.

2. A meme-pool

At any given point of time, we can describe the state of a culture as a set of memes — a meme-pool. We can also describe the state of some part of that culture in such a way, or the state of a scientific field. Suppose we try to list the memes in the meme-pool of Translation Studies: here are some that occur to me.

Translation transfers/preserves meaning
The source text is holy
Translating is copying / imitating...
Translating is performing / representing...
Traduttore — traditore
Translations enrich the target culture
Translation honours the source text
Translation can reveal the “pure language”
Translation domesticates the Other
Translations are more neutral than originals
Translations show signs of ST interference
The best translations are not recognized as such
The best translations get the same effect as the ST
Some STs get translated more freely than others
Translating is recoding
Translating is communicating a message
The form of a translation is determined by its function
Translations can have hidden agendas
Translation is like cannibalism
Translating is a decision-making activity
Translators make formal and semantic changes
Translators change cultures
Translators make mistakes
Translations are often done by amateurs
Machines can / cannot translate well

In Memes of Translation (1997) I suggest that there are also supermemes in this meme-pool — these are particularly dominant memes that keep coming up allover the place, often in slightly different forms. They are extremely persistent: in fact, they just won’t go away!

The source-target meme
The equivalence meme
The unranslatability meme
The free vs. literal meme
The all-writing-is-translating meme

Now notice what happens to some of these supermemes if we look at translation itself as a memetic activity. This means that we see it as being based not on an equative relation, nor on one of transfer, but on replication: an additive relation.

Not: A = A’ (equative)
Nor: A —> B (transfer)
But: A —> A + A’ (additive)

It is the additive relation that most closely represents what is essential about the act of translation. There is dynamic movement over time, yes, but not from a source to a target; one is not carrying something from one place to another, because the “something” still remains at the source after the translation process is completed — source texts or messages do not disappear simply because they have been translated. What happens is that at time 1 we have one text or message (A), and then at time 2 we have two: both the original (A) and an additional one, a replica (A’) that happens to be in a different language. So the memes of text or message A now spread further. They do not have to stop spreading in the source culture, so their territory has expanded.

3. Memes in translation teaching

I claimed earlier that Translation Studies is a branch of memetics. Let us examine whether this hypothesis brings any added value to the way we might teach translation. I will suggest three ways in which an application of memetics might be beneficial.

3.1. Memes are conceptual tools

Translation is a toolbox skill, not an algorithmic skill (Séguinot, forthcoming). In the case of an algorithmic skill, there is only one answer, one formula: you just have to learn it in order to arrive at the right solution, as in learning how to use a new word-processing program. In the case of a toolbox skill, you need several tools in your pack, and you need to know how to select the right one to accomplish a given task. Translator training actually involves an initiation into the use of two kinds of tools, and both should be given adequate space in the syllabus. Some tools are technical: computer programs, for instance. Other tools are conceptual. These conceptual tools are memes, and can be taught explicitly as memes. In this way, they spread still further.

The first application of memetics to translator training is based on this fact that memes are conceptual tools. Memes about translation, in the current meme-pool, can be useful in the activity of translation itself, and in the activity of teaching translation. For without conceptual tools, we cannot think at all. Trainee translators need to be aware of what they are doing, and of what professional translators do. In order to achieve this awareness, they need ways of thinking about the activity of translation, ways of analysing it; they need the relevant concepts.

Some memes about translation are widespread, but others are more specific to the community of professional translators. All professionals have acquired a stock of concepts about translation. These shared concepts — we could call them professional translation memes — are the conceptual tools of their trade. Professionals acquire these conceptual tools partly from experience, but partly (perhaps mostly) from their training. The task of a translation trainer, therefore, is to spread memes about translation — useful memes. Let’s consider some examples.

(i) Translation is a memetic activity. Suppose that this idea of translation is introduced at the very beginning of a training course. It highlights a number of valuable aspects of translation that often remain a bit neglected. Translators are agents in the spreading of ideas, for instance; they are not mere copiers of texts. Translations change the state of the world, by adding new texts. The activity of translation is at the heart of cultural development, of the evolution of ideas. Because memetic replication (almost) always involves variation, we do not need to focus on the impossibility of preserving some kind of identity; instead, we can focus on the way texts change as they are translated, and examine the nature and motivation of such changes: this is a more realistic approach, and one that gives the translator more freedom of responsibility and more scope for creativity.

(ii) Strategy memes. One of the most useful sets of professional translation memes is that of strategy memes. These memes are, in a particularly obvious sense, essential conceptual tools of the translator’s trade. By “strategy” here I mean any well-established way of solving a translation problem. These strategies are widely used and well known in the profession (not necessarily under the same names, of course). One way of telling the difference between a professional and an amateur is that the professional usually knows at once, or can decide quite quickly, what kind of strategy to use. Professionals can do this either because they have learned the strategies explicitly during training, or because they have discovered them from their own experience, or because they have picked them up from colleagues. This is not to say that professionals always use them consciously; they may well become routine, automatic responses. But it seems likely that at the beginning of a translator’s career they are used consciously; and certainly in training they can be introduced explicitly.

Translation problems come in many shapes and sizes, and so do strategies. Some problems have to do with where to find a given term; others are comprehension problems. Still others have to do with the selection of the optimal equivalent. And others again concern such things as translator’s block, getting stuck, losing the flow. For all these kinds of problems, various standard solutions are available that are worth trying. They are possible short cuts, you might say: tricks of the trade.

Here are two extracts from a recent article from the financial page of the Guardian Weekly (March 23, 2000). The headline is “Hi-tech shares brought low as old economy rises”, and the topic is the fall in new technology share prices and a rise in the value of “old economy” stocks. I have added the italics.

1. [The opening sentences] It is a corporate remake of The Empire Strikes Back. Two weeks ago a clutch of new technology stars soared into the elite of the FTSE 100 index. Since then, the shares of Freeserve, Psion and Kingston Communications have plummeted by more than a third, and even Baltimore Technology has lost more than 10% of its value.

2. [Later in the article] But analysts warn that not all cheap stocks are bargains. Michael O’Sullivan of Warburg Dillon Reed points to companies with consistently good results and strong positions in their markets, such as GKN, the engineer, CRH, and BAe. He likes technology stocks but says: “As for Freeserve and, we say”

How to translate the bits in italics into, say, Norwegian? Does a wonderful translation spring immediately to mind, or do you feel there is a problem here? A professional might think like this (if he has read Leppihalme 1997): In (1) we have a cultural allusion, of the “proper name” kind. Well-tried strategies for translating these cultural allusions are: retain unchanged, retain with guidance, replace by local equivalent, replace by common noun, give overt explanation, and omit (in this order of preference). So I’ll take... In (2) we have an example of wordplay. Here, the established solutions are... well, what are they? You might like to have a look at Delabastita (1993).

In other words, this professional already has the conceptual tools available in his toolbox, he knows what options are available, and can proceed directly to select the best one for this context. He does not have to waste time finding out what the possibilities are first, before choosing, but he can exploit the experience of previous translators and scholars who have explored the problem of translating cultural allusions or wordplay. He can make use of previous examples of best practice, good problem-solving ideas. (For a fuller classification and selection of strategy memes, see the appendix to this paper.)

In translator training, strategy memes need to be presented from two angles. First, trainees need to know what the strategies are. This means becoming acquainted with the concepts, learning what they mean, how the strategies can be defined, seeing what is available. Second, trainees need to learn something about the conditions under which different strategies tend to be used. (This is one of the big problems for translation research.) A memetically enlightened professional, then, is someone who can recognize a typical problem, register the relevant contextual conditions, and select an appropriate strategy.

(iii) Norm memes. Another useful set of memes concerns translation norms. These too need to be taught explicitly, as essential memes. Translation norms guide the translator’s decisions at a more general level. They are constraints on the translator’s freedom of choice, but they are also reminders that translators belong to a professional community governed by agreements on how we should behave, what our texts should look like. They can thus reinforce the translator’s sense of professional identity. Moreover, if you know what the norms are, you can feel freer to exercise your creative imagination within the limits they set, as a child can feel free, confident and responsible within the limits set by the parents. If you know what the norm is, you do not have to wonder how far you can go. Norms are not laws, however. Norms can be broken, and better ones proposed. Each time a translator conforms to a norm, and thus spreads the meme, the norm becomes stronger. But each time someone breaks the norm, it becomes a bit weaker.

Translation norms have been analysed and classified in many ways (see e.g. Bartsch 1987, Toury 1995, Chesterman 1997, Schäffner (ed.) 1998, Hermans 1999). Some norms govern the relation between source text and target text; others relate to the form of the target text, to target-language conventions of style etc.; others to the process of effective communication. These norms make manifest the general code of conduct within the profession, and also the responsibility of the profession vis-à-vis society at large. Norm memes carry ideas about what a translator should do; strategy memes carry ideas about what a translator can do.

3.2. Encourage mutualist memes!

But are all memes useful? After all, some genes are destructive... The same is true of memes: some are “parasitic”, some “mutualist”. A parasitic meme is one that, in the long run at least, is harmful to its carrier. A mutualist one is beneficial to the survival of its carrier. In teaching, we should try to encourage mutualist memes and discourage parasitic ones. We can do this quite explicitly, showing that some do harm to the translator’s profession and self-confidence, while others are constructive. The strategy and norm memes mentioned above are all mutualist ones.

Here are some parasitic memes, which are bad for the people that carry them, i.e. bad for translators. A particularly destructive one is: “There is no need for a theory of translation.” This is bad for translators (and also for translator trainers, not to mention translation scholars...) because it implies that translation is something so simple, so straightforward, that anyone can do it with their eyes closed, and so the whole status of the profession is watered down to nothing. After all, what is a theory? Originally, a theory meant a way of seeing something, a way of taking a careful look, a systematic and contemplative perspective. To say that we don’t need a theory implies that we do not need to look at what we are doing, we don’t need to think about it. Or, on the other hand, it might mean that there is nothing special about translation: all we need is a theory of communication... (See Gutt 1990, Condit-Tirkkonen 1992.) But this too is a view that undermines the profession’s identity, reduces its distinguishing features.

Another parasitic meme is the untranslatability meme. Despite centuries of evidence to the contrary, the meme is a persistent one, stressed by sceptics who wish to downplay the translator’s creativity, to reduce translation to something secondary, done by people who are not real writers, and so on. Translation is impossible, and so any effort at translating is bound to fail. Translators are betrayers of the original, and particularly if they try to translate poetry, because poetry cannot be translated, indeed, poetry is that which cannot be translated... Not a position that encourages positive thinking, nor even a realistic one. People who like this meme evidently feel that the very possibility of translation is some kind of threat; they then defend themselves against this threat by claiming that translation is impossible, and thus banishing the threat by a neat circular argument.

This meme goes hand in hand with another one (together, they form a mememe) — the sameness meme. This is the idea that translations (at least, proper translations) are in some way “the same” as their originals. That the job of the translator is to transfer something that remains the same, unchanged. Because this never occurs — that is, it never occurs exactly — therefore translations (proper translations) are impossible. They are, in fact, theoretically impossible. (Note the interestingly paradoxical appeal to theory in this kind of argument, in order to deny the existence of the object of the theory.) If you think that your translations must achieve sameness, and you nevertheless accept that you can never reach this sameness, then you will always see your translations as failures. Again, this is not a helpful attitude.

I suspect that the sameness meme is also connected to the source-target supermeme mentioned earlier. If you work with the metaphor of transfer, of moving something (a message, a meaning) from one place to another, then you seem bound to believe that this something does not change during the transfer process. You cross the river, but you do not change your identity as you do so. From a memetic point of view, this metaphor is surely a destructive one.

In opposition to the parasitic sameness meme I would set the mutualist meme of “relevant similarity”. This seems to me to be a much more positive and realistic way to conceive of the equivalence relationship between source and target texts. It is also more flexible: more than one similarity may exist between the same two texts, depending on what is relevant, i.e. depending on the point of view, on the purpose of the translation, and so on. Consider how this view affects the way a translator can think of the translation process: the aim now is to produce a relevant similarity, not an impossible sameness. So: what kind of similarity will be the most relevant one? How much similarity, too? These questions force the translator to give some thought to the skopos of the translation, and to the various kinds of similarity that might be possible, before choosing the most appropriate one and deciding how to realize it. Surely this is a view that would benefit the translation profession, in that it should lead to good translations and satisfied clients.

Another useful mutualist meme is the idea of the translator as an expert, rather than as a humble slave of the source text or its author, or the client. This is a point made particularly strongly by the skopos theorists. Its beneficial influence on a translator’s self-image is obvious.

3.3. Memes evolve: teach translation history!

Memes are not static, they evolve. They mutate as they spread, sometimes more, sometimes less. You can look at the history of translation as the evolution of translation memes: a succession of ideas that come and go, like passing fashions, some more longlasting than others. They do not come and go on their own, of course: there are always socio-cultural causes, and willing or unwilling carriers of memes. Memes often tend to recur under different names, which natually affects their mutation. Compare:

Translate word for word
Translate closely
Translate literally
Translate in a source-oriented way
Produce a semantic translation
Produce a documentary translation

None of these mean exactly the same thing, but you can see that they are manifestations, mutations, of more or less the same meme.

Why should trainees be aware of the way translation memes have evolved? Because this is the history of their own profession. This is one excellent way to become socialized into the tradition of the profession, to begin to identity oneself with it and find one’s own place within it. If you are aware of the historical background, it is also easier to form your own theory of translation, your own particular combination of memes that make best sense to you. It may also be that the ontogenetic development of an individual translator runs somehow parallel to the phylogenetic evolution of the profession as a whole (see Chesterman 1997: 159f). If this is so, an awareness of the phylogenetic progression may speed up the ontogenetic one.

Memes mutate as they evolve. Trainees can also be encouraged to take part in this mutation. This would mean exploring and experimenting with norm-breaking translation, new solutions, new combinations of ideas... maybe also keeping up with the latest innovations in translation research.

4. Memes in translation research

Here I will briefly mention three ways in which memetics can be conceptually applied in translation research. To some extent, these recapitulate some of the points already made above.

4.1. The cultural turn

Most obviously, memetics appears eminently relevant to the whole of the cultural turn that has taken place in Translation Studies over the past twenty years or so (see e.g. Bassnett and Lefevere 1990). This was in part a reaction against linguistic approaches that were thought to be too narrow and to neglect the wider cultural and social aspects of translation. As a result of this turn towards a cultural dimension, scholars have looked at translation more as a way of transmitting ideas from one culture to another, and thus as a way of influencing other cultures.

One of the fashionable concepts has been that of manipulation (Hermans 1985). This can be understood in two senses. Translators and their clients manipulate the target culture by introducing and spreading new memes there; and translators manipulate the source text itself as they translate, so that the memes they express in the target text are mutations of those in the original — for instance, they may be ideologically coloured. Much interesting research has explored these senses of manipulation.

Another interesting kind of research which is clearly memetic is the study of what is known as the comet’s tail phenomenon. This means looking at the way a given work, or the work of a particular author, spreads through a series of cultures, via translation (direct or indirect). Studies of Shakespeare translation, for instance, have followed his progress through Europe in this way. One translation sparks off another, and then another, so that a whole trail of translations is created — a motorway for the spread of memes. (See e.g. work by the Göttingen research group, such as Kittel 1992.)

A memetic scholar would be particularly interested in questions like these: What happens to ideas as they mutate via translation? Which ideas tend to survive better than others, and why? How does translation affect their survival, both in the target culture and in the source culture? One example of such research (not overtly memetic, but certainly memetic in principle) is that of Lianeri (forthcoming) on the concept of democracy in 19th-century Britain. (The concept of democracy is a complex and persistent meme, and presumably a mutualist one.) Lianeri shows how J.S. Mill’s translations of Greek texts on democracy affected the way Victorians thought about it. She also shows how Mill himself manipulated the Greek texts in accordance with his own ideas of democracy. Mill thus participated in a memetic mutation that had quite widespread effects on British culture.

4.2. The historical curve

I mentioned this above: the way of looking at translation history as a succession of recurring memes, as part of cultural evolution. An example is given in Chesterman (1997, chapter 2).

One possible application of this way of thinking has to do with making predictions. If we discover that the evolution of translation memes tends to occur in certain waves or patterns, not just in one culture only but more generally, we might be able to make predictions about up-and-coming memes in a particular culture. We might also be able to offer explanations about current meme patterns, in terms of universal laws of memetic evolution.

Another line of potentially memetic research with a historical, temporal dimension is the study of retranslations. The decision to translate a given work again into the same target language, for instance a generation later, seems to suggest the need to revive certain memes that were perhaps in danger of fading away. What are the characteristics of translations that need to be supplemented by retranslations? How do retranslations differ from earlier translations? In other words, how are the memes re-expressed? What are the characteristics of translations that seem to survive without retranslations? More powerful memes? A more effective expression of them? How do different translations then compete for the honour of carrying the memes? (On retranslation in general, see e.g. the special issue of Palimpsestes 4, 1990.)

4.3. The cognitive twist

Cognitive research on translation is relative recent. In interpreting, there has been some research using EEG measurements, but in Translation Studies the main methodology here has been the use of Think-Aloud Protocols (TAPs). (For a recent example, the TRANSLOG project, see Hansen 1999.) The central question in this research is: what happens in the translator’s head? How are decisions made? What kind of decisions are made? When? How can we observe this?

From the memetic point of view, however, the crucial question is: do memes exist in the brain, in some observable form? Chemically? Neurologically? So far, we only have guesses... but perhaps the TAP studies of the future, combined with other research methods that will have to be more intrusive ones, will come up with some evidence. Maybe, one day, we shall be able literally to see an idea.

Indeed, maybe cognitive memetics could even help provide an answer to the really big question: what is consciousness?

5. Criticism

Memetics has not gone unchallenged, of course. Its reception so far has been a mixed one, with reactions ranging from enthusiasm to scepticism. The most frequent criticism has been that memes are no more than metaphors, so they are not properly scientific. One might reply that all science is based conceptually on metaphors, that this is the way we understand a great many things. We understand light, for instance, by seeing it as particles, or as waves, or as both at the same time.

Critics have also stressed that memes are not observable, so memetics is only speculation. Memetics scholars can only reply that genes, too, were not observable when they were first thought of. Nor were atoms. Some sub-atomic particles are not yet observable, apparently. And what about the strings of string theory, of which some say the universe ultimately consists? Memes might be observable one day, who knows?

A further criticism has been the fuzziness of the meme concept: how big is a meme? Just the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth, or the whole symphony? Maybe both? It is true that the concept needs to be made sharper. Atoms, too, needed to be redefined after it became possible to split them, they could no longer be defined as “unsplittable” elements.

Sceptics argue, furthermore, that the concept of a meme has no added heuristic value. It is just another way of telling us things that we already know — that ideas spread. Why build an elaborate parallel with genetics if we don’t need it in order to understand?

And what about the deterministic aspect? Memetics seems to take the position that human action is determined, if not by genes then by memes. Taken to its extreme, this position leaves no room for human agency or free will; it therefore undermines human dignity and value and is profoundly anti-humanistic. So say the critics...

The memetics meme is nevertheless spreading fast. There is now an online Journal of Memetics, and hundreds of memetics sites on the Internet. A good place to start is the Memes Central site at <>. For a critical review of Blackmore’s book, by Martin Gardner in the Los Angeles Times, see <>.


Bartsch, Renate (1987) Norms of Language. London: Longman.
Bassnett, Susan and André Lefevere (eds) (1990) Translation History, and Culture. London: Pinter.
Blackmore, Susan (1999) The Meme Machine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chesterman, Andrew (1996) “Teaching translation theory: the significance of memes”. In Cay Dollerup and Vibeke Appel (eds), Teaching Translation and Interpreting 3. New Horizons. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 63-71.
Chesterman, Andrew (1997) Memes of Translation. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Chesterman, Andrew (1998) “Communication strategies, learning strategies and translation strategies”. In Kirsten Malmkjaer (ed.) Translation and Language Teaching. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing, 135-144.
Dawkins, Richard (1976) The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Delabastita, Dirk (1993) There’s a Double Tongue. An investigation into the translation of Shakespeare’s wordplay, with special reference to Hamlet. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Dennett, Daniel C. (1991) Consciousness Explained. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Gutt, Ernst-August (1990) “A theoretical account of translation — without a translation theory”. Target 2/2, 135-164.
Hansen, Gyde (ed.) (1999) Probing the process in translation: methods and results. Copenhagen Studies in Language 24. Copenhagen: Samfundslitteratur.
Hermans, Theo (ed.) (1985) The Manipulation of Literature. Studies in Literary Translation. London: Croom Helm.
Hermans, Theo (1999) Translation in Systems. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.
Leppihalme, Ritva (1997) Culture Bumps. An empirical approach to the translation of allusions. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Lianeri, Alexandra (forthcoming). “Translation and the shaping of modern democracy”. In A. Chesterman, A., N. Gallardo and Y. Gambier (eds), Translation in Context. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Kittel, Harald (ed.) (1992) Geschichte, System, Literarische Übersetzung / Histories, Systems, Literary Translations. [Göttinger Beiträge zur Internationalen Übersetzungsforschung 5.] Berlin: Erich Schmidt.
Schäffner, Christina (ed.) (1998) Translation and Norms. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Séguinot, Candace (forthcoming). “Knowledge, expertise, and theory in translation”. In A. Chesterman, N. Gallardo and Y. Gambier (eds), Translation in Context. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Tirkkonen-Condit, Sonja (1992) “A theoretical account of translation — without translation theory?” Target 4/2, 237-245.
Toury, Gideon (1995) Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Vermeer, Hans J. (1997) “Translation and the ‘meme’”. Target 9/1, 155-166.
Wilson, Edward O. (1998) Consilience. London: Little, Brown and Company.

Appendix. Translation strategies

This appendix outlines the main kinds of translation strategies, in note form. (For more details, see e.g. Chesterman 1997, chapter 4, and also Chesterman 1998.)

1. Strategies are also known as tactics or procedures — the terminology varies. Strategies are established ways of solving problems: potentially conscious; intersubjective.

2. A problem is a perceived difficulty in getting from the present state to the desired goal state.
Difficulty because:
(a) means to reach goal state are not known
—> a MEANS problem (e.g. alchemy)
(b) cannot decide what is the best means
—> a CHOICE problem (chess)
(c) cannot see goal state clearly
—> a GOAL problem (creative writing)

3. Different kinds of problems require different types of strategies.

3a. MEANS problems: search strategies (reference works, parallel texts, databases, terminologies, Internet, telephone etc.)

3b. CHOICE problems: textual strategies (also called procedures, shifts). Some of these are language-pair specific, of the kind: if there is structure X in the English source text, try structure Y in a Norwegian translation (–> contrastive analysis).
Others are more general textual tricks. Some examples:
(i) Syntactic strategies
Literal translation
Transposition (word class change)
Unit shift (morpheme, word, phrase...)
Structure changes at level of phrase.../ clause.../ sentence...
Cohesion change
Change of rhetorical scheme (pattern),
e.g. alliteration, repetition...
(ii) Semantic strategies
Using a near-synonym
Using an antonym + a negation
Using a hyponym or a superordinate
Changing between abstract and concrete
Changing the distribution (condensing or diluting)
Change of emphasis
Change of rhetorical trope (metaphor, personification...)
(iii) Pragmatic strategies
Cultural filtering (domesticating or foreignizing)
Explicitation or implicitation
Adding or omitting information
Change of formality level
Change of speech act
(e.g. rhetorical question; speech representation...)
Change of coherence

3c. GOAL problems: creativity or distancing strategies... survival strategies! How to keep up the feeling of flow? What to do when you get stuck?
Some examples suggested by the EU translation services.

— When producing text:
• Plan frequent small breaks
• Share the job with others
• Switch to another task for a bit
• Leave overnight
• Change internal state (e.g. from creative mode to checking mode; e.g. by changing chair, posture)
• Change from ‘cogitate’ to ‘contemplate’
• Change your surroundings
• Change the medium (try dictating?)
• Consult someone else (real or imagined; a different point of view)

— When decoding:
• Put yourself in the place of the author
• Read another document on the same subject
• Get the subconscious working... (music?)

— When revising:
• Learn to forget
• Change the medium (screen, print)
• Give the text to someone else to read
• Imagine you are someone else reading
• Start reading in the middle
• Adopt a regular proof-reading routine
• Separate the tasks involved:
> completeness
> accuracy of numbers, spelling, names, formatting
> clarity of syntax and style
> transmission of the message


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