The phrase The What is an exploitable and reaction image macro meme of a woman with a lifeless stare and grin.
It is also referred to as the Rug Doctor Woman Ad, due to the origin of the image.
The image macro is mostly used as an exploitable on object labeling memes, to convey feelings of shock, confusion and disbelief, although it was originally used as a reaction image for murder coverups.
The original photo, depicting the woman with the concerningly lifeless stare comes from a Rug Doctor placard, which could be seen in numerous stores like Walmart in the United States, at the turn of the 2010’s.
The woman is seen holding the vacuum cleaner, while displaying a forceful grin and staring into the abyss.
According to Tin Eye, an early example of the ad having been uploaded online can be traced back to November 24, 2014.
While the exact time of when the image turned into a meme is unknown, one of the earliest example emerged on Reddit in June 2017, having been uploaded to the r/funny sub by u/Kitty_velor, joking about the woman covering up the traces of a homicide.
A few days later, on June 28th, 2017, the image had spread to various subreddits, like r/memes as well as Instagram and Imgur.
The “The What” format of the meme first emerged in 2019, after people started organizing the Storm Area 51 event on Facebook, adding the captions “The” and “What” to the face of the woman, zooming in on her in two panels.
This composition of the image macro grew more popular, as it spread across the subreddits of Reddit, while also making it to Twitter, Instagram, as well as Facebook.
The YouTube channel Meme Archive uploaded a video titled The What Meme on October 27th, 2020, contaning a compilation of the various image macros of the format.
- Theawesomedaily.com – The What! The Carpet Cleaning Meme Does a Double Take
- Cheezburger.com – ‘The What’ Memes Have Been Everywhere On The Internet Lately
- Reddit – r/meme