Dear 100 Hour Board,
Hmm...so I realized there isn't a page on Wikipedia about meeples. Where can I find a history of the origin of meeples and how they caught on in popularity?
-Kabrit the Canuck
Meeples, the person-shaped placeholder tokens used to represent players in board games, were first used in a game called Carcassonne (source). Someone named Alison Hansel fused the words "my" and "people" together into the delightful little portmanteau while she was playing the game in November 2000. Since then, meeples have been used in so many board games that they have become a recognizable symbol of board games and the board gaming community. Meeples are often people-shaped, but they can also represent animals and other creatures.
I can't find much about exactly how meeples gained popularity, but you can see the trend of the word over time on Google. It's still not searched very often, but usage has definitely climbed in the last 15 years.
(Side note: Wow. I love learning about weird niche stuff like this. I had no idea what meeples were until I answered this question, but there are a bunch of people who know this stuff backwards and forwards. What a world! Reminds me of this Reddit thread that asked, "What drama is currently going down in the world of your hobby that the rest of us probably haven't heard about?" If you haven't seen it already, it's a pretty fun read. Anyway.)