If a single person does something without fully realizing he did it, or why, it could be said to be done subconsciously.

A group of people can likewise develop a cultural tendency, or meme, without the individuals who propagate the meme being conscious that they are propagating it, or why they do it. For instance in an area where starvation is more common the idea of 'beauty' may include a heavier set women, a subconscious preference for someone who is clearly not starved and thus likely healthy and financially well off. While the majority may agree with this vision of beauty they may not be consciously aware of why it is important to them. The meme has spread through the culture without a conscious recognition of its spreading or what motivated its existence.

Is there a good term to express these sort of memes? Specifically I'm looking for a word/words to allow me to discuss the cause/motivation of a meme while acknowledging that the culture the meme originated within may not be consciously aware of this cause.

  • Who says the preference for heavier women might be a subconscious preference? Even in Western societies, where people are far more likely to be morbidly obese than starving, you'll often hear people saying that they like their women/men "with a bit of meat on 'em", for example. Given that by definition memes are transmitted through culture, I doubt there would be many (if any) that get replicated without people even being aware of them. Dec 10, 2015 at 16:45
  • Shakespeare said, through the words of Caesar: Let me have men about me that are fat; Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a' nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much; Such men as he are dangerous. Nothing sexual is implied here, but it is an indication that perhaps in Shakespeare's day, people felt a bit more comfortable in the presence of those who "had a bit of meat on them".
    – WS2
    Dec 10, 2015 at 17:22
  • @FumbleFingers that isn't quite what I meant, but I was kind of afraid I had explained what I meant poorly. My point was not that the preference was subconscious, my point was that the reason behind why they have that preference was subconscious. They may admire the "meat on her bones" without consciously understanding why they, and those around them, consider that such a plus.
    – dsollen
    Dec 10, 2015 at 17:53
  • @FumbleFingers updated the question to try to better qualify what I mean by the unconscious nature of the meme. not sure how much it helps, me not goods english at :)
    – dsollen
    Dec 10, 2015 at 18:10

2 Answers 2


I am not sure, but I feel inadvertent would fit just fine.

inadvertent (adjective)

not resulting from or achieved through deliberate planning.


The African culture inadvertently caused the creation and propagation of several questionable memes.

P.S: The above usage is just an example typed in a hurry. Feel free to edit it out.

P.P.S: You can also consider using unpremeditated

  • hmm. Your right it almost fits, but somehow doesn't feel quite right. By it's technical definition it should fit, but in practice it seems to have a slightly negative connotation, as if the meme generated was not desirable. I'm looking for almost a positive connotation, that the meme did make sense and was the logical development of culture given some stimulus; the development simply wasn't a conscious adoption of the culture. Still, it's allot better then any phrase I've come up with so far, which makes me feel silly since it's pretty obvious
    – dsollen
    Dec 10, 2015 at 18:07

Even though it's not an English word but rather a German one, this has seen wide usage among English speakers: zeitgeist.

Here's a definition from http://goo.gl/FqeQxU:

noun, German. 1. the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

Maybe that comes close to what you were thinking.

  • I would agree with this. Obviously neither zeitgeist nor meme inherently imply "not consciously acknowledged", but I think the connotations of being deliberately propagated are stronger for the latter. That's simply a matter of how the terms tend to be used, despite the fact that meme derives from gene (and few people are likely to be consciously aware of exactly what they might be transmitting to the next generation while they're busy engaging in an act of procreation! :) Dec 10, 2015 at 17:08
  • I agree. But as far as I'm concerned there's no closer term for the question asked!
    – fnune
    Dec 10, 2015 at 17:09
  • I think the general idea with a "meme" is that it's only transmitted culturally. Among populations regularly exposed to the risk of famine, a preference for heftier sexual partners might automatically resurface even if you could somehow sever all cultural transmission routes. But I don't even know if there is any link between the two - one might be just as likely to think the heavier person would be more expensive to keep fed in the style to which they've obviously become accustomed (i.e. - they're potentially a "high maintenance" partner). Dec 10, 2015 at 17:23
  • This is not quite what I'm looking for, but I think that's because I fail at explaining my intent :). It's not specifically the zeitgeist I wish to discuss, but specifically the subconsciously nature of said zeitgeist. Effectively I want to say "because of X this group my subconsciously develop trait/meme Y into their cultural zeitgeist. Except that I feel the word 'subconsciously' feels out of place since I'm speaking of a group and it seems like subconscious references the effects of an individual.
    – dsollen
    Dec 10, 2015 at 17:58
  • @FumbleFingers There have been studies which suggest a correlation between famine and preference for weight, though it's been awhile since I read them so I won't speak to how comprehensive they were. I had trouble coming up with a good example at the moment, it was that or a reference to the meme of beautiful milk-maid during the smallpox epidemic, a subconscious recognition that milk-maids were less likely to develop small pox, but that was not quite as 'subconscious' and also even more obscure a historical fact.
    – dsollen
    Dec 10, 2015 at 18:01

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