Image macro

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An example of an image macro

An image macro is digital media featuring a picture, or artwork, superimposed with text. They are one of the most common forms of internet memes, a term (stemming from evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins' coining of the term 'meme' in 1976; see meme) that according to Knobel and Lankshear (2007) has come to mean the rapid dissemination and uptake of ‘‘particular idea presented as a written text, image, language ’move,’ or some other unit of cultural ’stuff’’.[1]

Etymology and use[edit]

The term "image macro" originated on the Something Awful forums.[2] The name derived from the fact that the "macros" were a short bit of text a user could enter that the forum software would automatically parse and expand into the code for a pre-defined image.[2] This in turn related to the computer science topic of a macro, defined as "a rule or pattern that specifies how a certain input sequence (often a sequence of characters) should be mapped to an output sequence (also often a sequence of characters) according to a defined procedure".

Beginning in 2007, lolcats and similar image macros (a form of internet phenomenon) spread beyond the initial communities who created them and became widely popular.[3]


Typical format for image macros.

Although they come in many forms, the most common type of image macro consists of:

  1. Text, typically a large text in the Impact font,[4] centered at the top and bottom of the image, using all upper-case letters. White text with a black border is typically used because it is easily readable on almost any background color. Typically, the text at the top is only for introduction and the text at the bottom is the main message. Exaggerated, intentional spelling errors are also used frequently for humorous effect.[citation needed]
  2. An image to be placed behind the text. These are typically drawn from a specific set of images that are understood by many Internet users, such as Bad Luck Brian. However, by using the aforementioned typographic style, any image can take on the context or aesthetic of an image macro.

One of the more famous image macros is "O RLY?" O RLY is often used on the internet as an abbreviation for the phrase "Oh, really?" Originally started with a snowy owl photograph (which is the classic O RLY image macro),[5] it spread out over the Web quickly and was followed by other macros that convey a wide range of emotions. Another style of image macro that has amassed its own separate subculture is the "lolcat", an image combining a photograph of a cat with text intended to contribute humour. The text is often idiosyncratic and grammatically incorrect, and its use in this way is known as "lolspeak". Many times, the image is told from the point of view of the animal.[6]


As mentioned above, cats and other animals in general have been a popular choice for images with humorous captions since the mid 2000s.[6] Some common animal-related image macros include lolcats, every time you masturbate... God kills a kitten, O RLY?, doge and Grumpy Cat.

Rage Comics use "rage faces" to humorously depict an everyday or exaggerated situation.[7]

Another popular type of image macro includes a picture of a certain person or figure drawn from various sources in front of a colored background. These "characters" often share the same image, but different internet users can choose different humorous captions.[8] These characters can include "Bad Luck Brian", "Success Kid", and "Scumbag Steve", among others. Bad Luck Brian image captions are used for unfortunate situations, Success Kid image captions depict an everyday situation involving good luck, and Scumbag Steve captions describe an unfriendly action taken by somebody.

Websites such as Know Your Meme document image macros such as Bad Luck Brian that have become popular enough to become internet memes, covering such topics as their original intended meaning, spread and popularity (as measured by Google search interest over time).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Knobel, Michele; Lankshear, Colin (2007). "Online Memes, Affinities, and Cultural Production". In Michele Knobel, Colin Lankshear (eds.). A New Literacies Sampler. 29. Peter Lang. pp. 199–228. ISBN 978-0-8204-9523-1. 
  2. ^ a b "SAClopedia entry for "image macro"". Something Awful SAClopedia. Retrieved 2008-07-28. (registration required)
  3. ^ Rutkoff, Aaron (2007-08-25). "With 'LOLcats' Internet Fad, Anyone Can Get In on the Joke". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  4. ^ Phil Edwards (2015-07-26). "The reason every meme uses that one font". Vox. Retrieved 2015-07-28. 
  5. ^ Stephen Phillips (2006-01-18). "Internet Term of the Week". The Independent Tiger Weekly. Archived from the original on 27 January 2008. Retrieved 2007-08-06. 
  6. ^ a b Dwight Silverman (2007-06-06). "Web photo phenomenon centers on felines, poor spelling". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  7. ^ "Remember the "Me Gusta" Meme? Here's How It Began.". Lifewire. Retrieved 2017-01-05. 
  8. ^ "What Is a 'Meme'?". Lifewire. Retrieved 2017-01-05.