The term "meme" first appeared in the book The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist. While reading A Thousand Brains (2021), I was quite surprised to learn that the term predates the internet era.
It was meant to describe something that evolves and replicates, just like a gene, but through culture instead of biology. While I've now come across this concept without having been named in more than a few books, it fascinates me every time.
(from this tweet)