This is the territory of Richard Dawkins who memorably christened “memes,” and Daniel Dennett shows that the concept is genuinely useful in describing the formation and evolution of culture. He defines “memes” thus:
They are a kind of way of behaving (roughly) that can be copied, transmitted, remembered, taught, shunned, denounced, brandished, ridiculed, parodied, censored, hallowed.They include such things as the meme for wearing your baseball cap backward or for building an arch of a certain shape; but the best examples of memes are words. A word, like a virus, needs a host to reproduce, and it will survive only if it is eventually transmitted to other hosts, people who learn it by imitation:
Like a virus, it is designed (by evolution, mainly) to provoke and enhance its own replication, and every token it generates is one of its offspring. The set of tokens descended from an ancestor token form a type, which is thus like a species.