We’re out of mime

There seems to be a bit of a word collision going on with the words mimetic and memetic. We are going to need to sort this out once and for all. Mimetic already means two things. The first is a study of the way in which animals imitate each other. So if you get a man in to study why your parrot is saying “Polly wants a cracker” then the guy is studying mimetics.

But what would happen if instead of studying the parrot, he was working out how much water would be left in the bird’s drink bowl after a certain amount of time? Well, he’d still be using mimetics. Because to work out the flow of water through a permeable membrane you can’t do all of the equations simultaneously, so you have to work out one equation that represents one bit of it and say, sort of, all of these other equations are a bit like this. The process of using these copycat equations is called mimetics too!

But what about memetics? Well, that’s the study of memes. You know those things where people ask each other to answer a series of blog questions and then they tag their friends to do the same. If you study those, then you are studying memetics. Actually memes are about more than just those strange things on blogs. They are about anything that sweeps the zeitgeist. A meme is any way in which an idea spreads around the world. They were proposed by Richard Dawkins and are, to his mind, the idea equivalent of natural selection. And the concept is about how an idea copies itself. So if the man is asking the parrot what its twitter handle is, it may well be to find out if the twitter meme has reached the parrot yet and so he would probably be studying memetics.

But there is one word missing from all of these. What if the man stops concentrating on the parrot and then decides to run on the spot? What if he suddenly seems to be stuck in an invisible box? What if he’s studying mime? What’s the word for that? There doesn’t seem to be one. But I’m going to guess that it’s going to be mimetics or memetics and I’m not sure that’s wise. I think those words might be full.

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