Contest: name that meme

« previous post | next post »

I've blogged about this before, most recently in "Pragmatics as comedy", 1/28/2010 — I cited four examples, and commenters noted eight or ten others.

What is "this"? Well, that's exactly my question.

First, here's another example — Multiplex for 5/21/2007:

What we're talking about here is a sort of self-conscious meta-conversation or meta-text, in which individual phrasal elements consist of implicitly self-referential descriptions, as stand-ins for the actual content or the intended discourse function or interactional effect of the conversational turn or the prose-passage sentence. Sometimes these descriptions take the form of indefinite noun phrases ("elaborate defensive excuse", "half-hearted agreement"). In other cases, the descriptions make up a sequence of self-referential sentences ("This sentence contains a provocative statement that attracts the readers’ attention, but really only has very little to do with the topic of the blog post. This sentence claims to follow logically from the first sentence, though the connection is actually rather tenuous.").

These things seem to be pretty common — I keep running across more examples. But I don't know what to call them. All the names I can think of are pretty lame: "schematic meta-text"? Nah.

So feel free to exercise your terminological ingenuity in the comments. The best suggestion — if it's good enough — will win a lifetime subscription to Language Log.


  1. bfwebster said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

    Hmm. "Meta-libs"? After the old "Mad-Libs" fill-in-the-blank game? "Meta-plate" (meta + template)? Or, perhaps a bit better, "meme-plate"? (I'd suggest "meme-libs", but it's awkward to say.)

    Also, because it's such a perfect example, here's the movie trailer equivalent: ..bruce..

  2. John Cowan said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

    What I can't make up my mind about is whether the characters are participants in the game, or whether the game is merely layered over their conversation like footnotes that have displaced the text. Are we to suppose that the rightmost character in the first panel is actually saying the five words attributed to him, or is this merely a description by the author of what we are to imagine him saying?

  3. MattF said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

    It's a conversation in 'predicates' rather than instances. So, the phrases in the bubbles are references to predicates, e.g., to sentences P = 'x is a pop culture reference' rather than to any specific 'x'.

  4. Aaron Toivo said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:02 pm


  5. Brian said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

    John: Surely the point of the comic is that it can be read both ways equally well?

  6. DaveB said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    Throwaway introductory comment establishing both my understanding of the matter at hand and ability to take it light-heartedly. Sentence to clarify what I think the ideal definition ought to include, noting that many other versions are too narrow. All told, perhaps two options, in the form of both a summary and a question, playfully alluding to postmodern terminology I don't fully understand but think might apply, namely decentrement (with a sub-clause nodding towards the knowing eccentricity of this technique)? Hence decentricity? Or "decentric text"?

  7. Lars Karlsson said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    Articulated form.

  8. Aaron Toivo said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

    To back up my suggestion a bit…

    "Meta-performance" should be able to accommodate future extensions of the meme into, say, scripted speech (as opposed to text), or even music – I can imagine someone writing an ironic song with lyrics describing how they are sung, say. If singing the scale in do-re-mi doesn't already count as an instance of that!

    Also, any term with "meta-" is inherently cool, these days, so it could have a chance of catching on. The only other way to do that would be to abandon descriptive terms and go for something like verbing the name of a writer or comic strip that frequently goes in for the meme.

  9. Yuval said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

    How about "name of phenomenon"?

  10. Chris said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

    I'd suggest "speaker's digest", or perhaps "remarkatype" or "remarchetype", if only I could decide on how to spell it.

  11. Chris said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    (to clarify, "remarkatype" should be the noun describing the statement, hence "this" as defined in the post above would be "speaking in remarkatypes")

  12. AB said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    How about agreemeta ?

  13. Debrevis said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

    "meme name"

    Anything more would miss the point.
    But, I think something like empty talk or content-free content may apply. The idea is that it's all pipework, all structure, no particulars. Only the shells of function remain. I think it's more the idea that something is taken away, exposing the skeleton of how things are working, rather than a meta layer applied on top.

    You could also see it as a kind of translation… for an alien robot or something.

  14. Steve T said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    Perhaps these should be called "generalog" (Generic Dialog)?

    Here is a very popular quote from IRC: (NSFW).

  15. Chris Holdaway said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

    The above is a similar take, proposing the template for every Academy Award winning film ever.

  16. Russell said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    I second (or third) a self-referential name. "Clever meme name," for instance.

    Or, perhaps "insert meme name here," though the [insert xyz here] formula is separate and/or predates this type of meta-performance.

  17. phosphorious said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    I was thinking "Schematic-something" too, so I'm on board with "Schematic meta-text."

    Just abbreviate it SMT, and it's suddenly hip.

    SMT FTW.

  18. John Lawler said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra"

  19. Steve Kass said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

    According to, this Multiplex strip illustrates Trope Name.

  20. rootlesscosmo said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:10 pm

    @Aaron Toivo:
    an ironic song with lyrics describing how they are sung, say.

    My favorite example of this is a number from an Off-Broadway revue, "Diversions," that I saw long ago. It was called "Here Comes the Ballad" and included the lyric "A change of key–we're now in E!"

  21. Shangwen said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:21 pm


  22. Steve Kass said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

    @Aaron Toivo and rootlesscosmo:

    William Billings’s Modern Music (1781) is an early American example of this. (Full text and program notes here; shameless self-promoting plug here.)

    We are met for a Concert of modern Invention;To tickle the Ear is our present Intention.

    The Audience are seated […] set the Tune on E […] Let the Bass take the Lead […] Tenor succeed […] change to brisker Time […] rise by slow Degrees […] Six-four is the Movement that pleases us best […] ’Tis the part of the Hearers to clap their Applause.

  23. Roberta Wedge said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

    Pompidou, after the most famous building which lays its structure bare for all to see, or a play on it: Pompidon't, Pompous-do, etc."The SNL version of Friends woke the zombie from its grave, with a whole mini-ep in Pompidou."

  24. Daniel N. said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

    According to TV Tropes, this is a trope known as "Trope Name."

  25. Kerry said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

    Heavy Meta.

  26. Henning Makholm said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

    To save others the trouble: I've just spent hours looking up what the folks at TVTropes call this. Turns out their name for the phenomenon is ill-suited as generic terminology. Alas.

  27. bfwebster said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

    @rootlesscosmo: "Spamalot" had one, too: "The Song That Goes Like This".

  28. Rubrick said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

    In keeping with the ancient tradition of naming something after an arbitrary non-seminal example, how about "metaplexing"? It even almost makes sense.

  29. Tuuli Mustasydän said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

    @Aaron Toivo, ruthlesscosmo:

    Another classic example of a "meta-song" would be "Title of the Song" by Da Vinci's Notebook. It describes the lyrics of a typical love ballad…though it includes the line "modulation…and I hold a high note!!!!!!!"…

  30. Neil B said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

    I believe there's a play like this that I read a few years ago, by either Christopher Durang or David Ives. I don't have my books by either at my ready, but maybe this will jog somebody else's memory?

  31. SHMOO-EL said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 4:24 pm


  32. Teresa G said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

    Agreeing that a good name would be a self-referential one. Such as:

    "This text is meta"


    "This text is self-referential"

  33. Lazar said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

    While I'm at a loss for the name of this phenomenon, I'll share my slogan for all y'all to use: "Mo' meta is mo' betta."

  34. Ian Tindale said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

    Insert placeholder here while sustained angelic chord sounds in background and light level increases.

  35. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

    "Empty performatives"? For examples like the comic, not like "This sentence contains a provocative statement…"

    This has got to be in Pirandello or Beckett or Stoppard or something.

    According to J. L. Austin, German students in dueling clubs used to challenge each other to duels by saying, "Beleidigung" ("insult"). I can hope that the answer was a word for "challenge" ("Herausforderung?"), but I haven't found anything.

    In real-life English, I suppose there's "My compliments." "Thanks."

  36. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    I would call it "speaking in tropes". There at least one example somewhere in Questionable Content too.

  37. Catanea said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

    somehow I was instantly sold on "name of phenomenon", even if it isn't catchy.

  38. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    It's a kind of sentence-level pro-form, isn't it? But that's not a very good name.

    How about clerts, and clerting, after Robert Rauschenberg's 1961 Portrait of Iris Clert, in which he replaced the portrait of Iris Clert with a sentence stating that it was a portrait of Iris Clert.

    Another way of phrasing these things is to say "Insert pop culture reference here", "Insert ironically self-deprecating rejoinder here". So they could be called insert heres, or just inserts I suppose.

  39. Dick Margulis said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

    <no self-referential jokes, because it would be impossible to top DaveB's comment>Taken as a whole, the comic is a framework, a template, or a storyboard. I've read profiles of television comedy writers in which writing session conversations sounded much like the conversation shown above. Take the characters out of the movie lobby and put them around a pizza-crust-laden conference table with laptops in front of them, and the conversation would look entirely normal.

  40. hector said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

    Back in the day when there were T-shirt shops that would put any words you wanted on a T-shirt, I had one made up that read, "Your name on this shirt." I was so proud of myself, but hardly anyone got the humour. I guess I was ahead of my time, for once.

    If "meta" is indeed cool right now, don't use it! Otherwise you'll end up with a verbal dinosaur like the Toronto Raptors.

  41. Teresa G said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

    Changing my vote to Jean-Sébastien Girard's "Speaking in Tropes."

    The nominal form could be "Trope-Speak"

  42. Sili said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:45 pm

    It was called "Here Comes the Ballad" and included the lyric "A change of key–we're now in E!"

    Isn't that what Leonard Cohen did?

  43. m.m. said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    Hmm… The whole "name the meta conversation a meta name about its meta-ness" is funny. The linking to a self-referring name or 'tropes' as per tv tropes hell, is interesting. I've no clever name to give though P:

  44. Daniel C. Parmenter said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

    I think I like bfwebster's "MetaLibs" best. That sums it up perfectly for me.

  45. Chip said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 5:57 pm

    Genrespeak or Typoglossia

  46. Bedwetter said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

    Meta-subs? Derived from 'substitution' with a hint of 'subtext'.

  47. Brian said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

    I'm not sure if this counts as a real name, but there is a group that does this, pretty much exclusively, called EFW :Existential Flame War. See

  48. Amy Stoller said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

    Tropecal humor.

  49. Jon F said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

    My favorite part of the "Movie Title" trailer is that the metalib for "dude" is "dude".

  50. tudza said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

    Given the large number of these, I would call this "lame".

    I can not call it gold lamé though since they are funny if you have never seen one before.

  51. tablogloid said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 9:39 pm

    Meta Memeatic Schematic

  52. David Gross said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

    1 vote for shmoo-el's, "metalog" please (short for metalogue, i presume)

  53. Dan S. said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 11:04 pm


  54. maidhc said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 12:36 am

    Another example: "Generic Uptempo Folk Song"

  55. @boris_tweets said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 12:48 am

    My vote goes to "name of phenomenon."

  56. RMS said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 12:59 am

    Ditto for "Metalibs" — "self-aware, meta-parodic text" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

  57. Sana said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 2:54 am

    Adding to the list of examples: How to Write a Manifesto

  58. Barrett said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 2:57 am

    Suggestive comment post

  59. bfgray said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 4:35 am


    It's snappy, if vague.
    Aside: a fellow student in a French lit seminar used to constantly irritate me by describing things as simply 'très méta', but I doubt she would've felt she could get away with it in English:
    ? That's very meta.

    Aside to aside: my Larousse provides this très helpful definition which seems vaguely apropos:

    "MÉTADISCOURS n. m. (v. 1950). Ling. Discours tenu sur les règles de fonctionnement du discours : Le métadiscours est la réalisation concrète de la métalangue."

    A fantastic example of a closely-related phenomon is Charlie Brooker's How to Report the News: .
    Another possible name for the phenomenon would be 'going trope-o' (cf. But I do like 'name of phenomenon'.

  60. Rose said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 5:48 am

    I've always interpreted these 'things' as both meta-commentary but also as jokes at the expense of human predictability in communication – the way all our little witticisms basically just fill in templates.

    So, templametates?

    'meta' works as an infix, and 'templametates' (initial stress) patterns nicely with 'whatchamacallit' and 'thingamabob'. But maybe you sort of have to say it in a Homer Simpson voice.

  61. SHMOO-EL said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 6:03 am

    (short for metalogue, i presume)

    Yes, we have dialogues and halfalogues, so actually I think it would be better to keep it unabbreviated as metalogue. It's catchy and meaningful.

  62. Rodger C said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 7:10 am

    Another example: Hootie and the Blowfish, "The Hook."

  63. Eric P Smith said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 8:14 am

    My vote is for Dan S's "metalalia".

  64. Leonardo Boiko said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 8:34 am

    “Speaking in tropes” just sounds so great! But they aren’t exactly tropes; they’re categories or class descriptors. And the meme is more general than dialogues or speaking—the TVtropes page cited above, for example, is itself an instance of it, as is e.g. this song, that manifesto &c.

  65. Leonardo Boiko said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 8:41 am

    @Rose: “human predictability in communication”

    William S. Burroughs had on obsession with tape recorders due to this. For example, he suggested that married couples kept a couple of corresponding recorders—say A lives with B, so they name their recorders A and B. A records a good sample of the kind of arguments that he uses when quarrelling with B and B does likewise. Now the next time they’re angry with each other, instead of going to the trouble of fighting verbally, they could just play their tapes, say alternating one minute each.

    At the extreme he’d say human beings are no different than tape recorders and the only hope for creativity is in what selections you choose to mix. In this as in other things he anticipated Internet culture.

  66. Matt said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 9:06 am

    @Rodger C: I think you mean "Hook" by Blues Traveler

  67. Mfahie said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 10:22 am


  68. KevinM said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 11:01 am

    How about a "Gracie"?
    As in:
    "Say goodnight, Gracie."
    "Goodnight, Gracie."

    (Actually never said by Burns & Allen, but it has taken on a "Play-it- again-Sam" life of its own. Wiki suggests it's a false memory planted by "Goodnight, Dick" on the later Rowan & Martin TV show.)

  69. John Cowan said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

    Meta-irrelevant poem translation:

    My friend asked me to make for her a sonnet;
    I've never found myself in such a fix.
    Fourteen lines, they say, make up a sonnet;
    I'll write the next three parts with clever tricks.

    I was not born beneath a rhyming planet,
    Yet halfway through this poem I'm still here.
    And if I catch myself a final couplet,
    There's nothing in the quatrains I need fear.

    The third verse, as it seems, I'm now beginning;
    It's likely that I'll make it to the end
    Of this game that I am so slowly winning,
    This poem that I'm making for my friend.

    My thirteenth line, I see, I'm almost ending;
    Do you count fourteen? — if not, well, 'tis past mending.

         —Lope de Vega, "Soneto de repente", tr. John Cowan (2001)

  70. Rodger C said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    @Matt: Of course I did. Thanks.

  71. Chad Nilep said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

    Making the name of the phenomenon an example of the phenomenon ("name of phenomenon", "trope name" etc.) is too cutesy by 47%. Using the currently faddish "meta-" risks being dated and easily confused.

    "Pompidou" therefore gets my vote, both for the inside-out-structure of the Centre Georges Pompidou and for the frequent presence of carnival events in the Place Georges Pompidou.

  72. Alex said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

    Two more examples you may enjoy:

    1. "A Trailer for Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever":

    2. The "Generic Greeting" scene from Steven Soderbergh's movie "Schizopolis":

  73. Alex said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

    Whoops — looks like the "Schizopolis" clip on YouTube cuts off long before the scene ends. Well, you get the idea!

  74. bfgray said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

    Or how about 'sentiences' – sentences that have become conscious of their own existence?

  75. Laurie Watts said,

    May 3, 2011 @ 2:37 am

    I'm not nearly clever enough to come up with a name for this, but I did think you might like this example, where this is actually being used in quite a serious manner:

    It's in Swedish, it's aimed at encouraging parents to stand up to their teenagers asking for alcohol

    A very rough translation (I'm no professional):
    Daughter: Dad, I'm reminding you that I'm going to a party with Jessa, but I'm pretending it's dinner
    Dad: I know what you're going to ask, but I'm pretending to concentrate on this recipe
    Daughter: I am looking innocent, and asking if I can have a bottle of wine to dinner from you
    Dad: I am making a hell of an effort to appear authoritarian
    Daughter: Then I will have a little tantrum at you, and imply that you are a bad parent!
    Dad: I feel guilty. So I make up a condition that makes it less obvious that I have given in.
    Daughter: Ok
    Dad: I will try to convince myself that this is all you're going to drink.
    Daughter: I'm going to drink much more, but I won't tell you
    Dad: I love you
    Daughter: Bye

  76. Bob Violence said,

    May 3, 2011 @ 5:32 am

    Jay Leno's Newspeak Monologues

    "If you were a bore-whore itchin' to score — for a super good time, you'd be humpin' Al Gore! AlBaby got bore? That's for sure! Tripleplus ha-ha penis reference!"

  77. Maneki Nekko said,

    May 3, 2011 @ 5:35 am


    The characters in the comic strip are autoperiphrasing.

  78. Jim said,

    May 3, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

    "Show quote tourettes": The inability to not pepper your speech with show tune snippets, movie quotes, Monty Python bits — none of which carry actual meaning, but carry cultural touchstone meta meaning.

  79. Fred said,

    May 4, 2011 @ 1:22 am

    I cast my vote for metalogue, notwithstanding the alleged faddishity of meta-, as it is most à propos, and seems like the kind of word that has a good chance of catching on.

    In the interests of participation, however, I submit the plainly-too-long Ceci n'est pas une conversation. Much like its namesake, it has the shape of what it purports to be, but the substance is replaced with self-referential meta-commentary/description. Not to mention that there's more than a touch of the surreal about it (at least I remember distinctly feeling that way the first few times I came across it).

  80. Azimuth said,

    May 5, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

    I vote for Yuval's "name of phenomenon", but would abbreviate it "noppery", "nopping", etc.

  81. Heather Rose Jones said,

    May 7, 2011 @ 10:27 pm

    Brian: the Live Journal incarnation of the Existential Flame War has its roots in an old Usenet group of the same flavor (although threading gave a bit more coherence to the interactions … if "coherence" has any meaning in this context). A discussion thread about the phenomenon in the Making Light blog ( mentions roots in alt.callahans which may be the one I'm remembering (although I think there evolved a separate EFW group). The Making Light comment thread, in addition to being an example of the form, provides a lot of links to classic examples of the trope.

  82. Judith Strauser said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 9:14 am

    I do not have a suggestion to name the phenomenon but wanted to drop these two links to the community(ies) I know working along this principle, called EFW, for "Existential Flame War."

  83. Judith Strauser said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 9:15 am

    Oops. It appears I was ignorant of the long glorious history of the EFW. And should have read the comments before posting.

  84. Pau Amma said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

    Not a contest entry, but and are dedicated to that form. They got started by (some of) the same people who gave us

  85. Reinier Post said,

    May 9, 2011 @ 4:23 am

    More examples at

    The Yellow Submarine album (by The Beatles) has two self-referential songs in a row: Only a Northern Song, and All together now.

  86. paul savitz said,

    June 2, 2011 @ 10:55 pm

    Either metalogue or metalib. There's really nothing wrong with using the prefix "meta-" even if it is a bit of a fad; the fact is it works, and the fact that it pops into one's head as soon as one tries to describe this phenomenon suggests that it deserves to be part of the terminology.

    Each of the two suggested terms has pros and cons. Metalogue is more recognizable I think, because "logue" is more recognizable than "lib". However, metalib is more widely applicable because it comprises different art forms. It's also just really clever.

RSS feed for comments on this post