Words for ideas
I was thinking of the definition of meme from anthropology, a "unit of culture," like a gene is a unit of heritary information. The best example I can think of is when I was in a friend's car, driving through Harlem. Looking around at the kids hanging out on the stoops, she asked, "One day, they all switched to wearing plain white oversized t-shirts... how does it happen?"
More from Wikipedia:
The term first came into popular use with the publication of the book The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins in 1976, and the conceptual framework of memes borrows from the study of genes -- the units of biological transmission. Historically, the notion of a unit of social evolution, and a similar term (from Greek mneme, 'memory'), first appeared in 1904 in a work by the German evolutionary biologist Richard Semon: Die Mnemische Empfindungen in ihren Beziehungen zu den Originalenempfindungen, translated into English in 1921 as The Mneme.
By analogy with genetics, a meme passes from generation to generation via family and cultural traditions or training rather than via sexual reproduction, with occasional "mutations." Another common usage of the term "meme" relates closely to academic study of folklore and the informal communication of cultural information, in which memes fit into an analogy of "language as a virus".
During my bookstore days, I was fascinated by a journal - or book? - titled Mimesis. I figured another year or two of college and I'd know what it meant - and how to pronounce it.
Other fascinating words that I learned in college that haven't really come up in conversation since...
Yes, I am a big nerd.
Talked about seafloor spreading today with the seventh graders. My "mini-lesson" took too long - see discombobulated - so there wasn't time for the activity. We ended up just talking, as they'd had a ton of random and not-so-random questions during the lesson. One boy wanted to know how the Earth's magnetic field causes the Northern Lights. Other kids had never heard of the Northern Lights. I briefly explained it, which required a tangential explanation that "radiation" doesn't have to be bad, which required examples of harmless radiation (light!), and then we got around to the Aurora Borealis - and the Aurora Australis. I explained that "austral" is a root meaning southern... like Australia.
At least a couple of kids seemed to think this was a cool piece of information.