Among the large variety of memes floating around in 2020, one particular meme trope has invaded dozens of seemingly unconnected formats, silently dominating the modern memescape. Uniting IDK I’ve Never, Based on What? and Pansexuals Attracted to Pans? and as popular on Twitter and Reddit as it is on TikTok, the misinterpretation trope has become a trusted recipe for likes, smiles and karma across the web.

More a comedy trope rather than a meme, misinterpretation humor relies on the comedian – or the mememaker – intentionally pretending that they do not understand the substance of the subject they are talking about. The humor is drawn from taking an uneducated guess from face value information, such as the name of a film or a book. Imagine that you do not know what Little Women is about and try to take a guess based solely on the name of the novel. Is the book about women who are incredibly small?

In memes, the trope has found application in at least four notable modern meme formats: Based on What? and Pansexuals Attracted to Pans? (aka Group Names Misinterpretation), Who Is He and Why Does He? and the most popular of them all, IDK I’ve Never, all of which rely on misinterpretation as their primary comedic device. While the origin of the trope precedes modern meme culture and even the internet, the first signs of its prominence in the memescape can be traced to May 2017, when “Pansexuals Attracted to Pans” meme first took off.

Back then, it wasn’t really a large thing, just a joke that seemed too obvious not to make. Fast forward to iFunny in Summer 2019: this was the time when a single joke sprouted into something beautiful. The GIF captioners on the app were the true pioneers of the genre who took the original concept and built upon it, misinterpreting what progressives, capitalists, accelerationists, authoritarians, atheists and other group names meant. Before the newborn format even reached mainstream (which happened in November 2019, with Reddit…

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