- a prefix appearing in loanwords from Greek, with the meanings “after,” “along with,” “beyond,” “among,” “behind,” and productive in English on the Greek model: metacarpus; metagenesis.
- a prefix added to the name of a subject and designating another subject that analyzes the original one but at a more abstract, higher level: metaphilosophy; metalinguistics.
- a prefix added to the name of something that consciously references or comments upon its own subject or features: a meta-painting of an artist painting a canvas.
Origin of meta-
sometimes before a vowel met-
- indicating change, alteration, or alternationmetabolism; metamorphosis
- (of an academic discipline, esp philosophy) concerned with the concepts and results of the named disciplinemetamathematics; meta-ethics See also metatheory
- occurring or situated behind or aftermetaphase
- (often in italics) denoting that an organic compound contains a benzene ring with substituents in the 1,3-positionsmetadinitrobenzene; meta -cresol Abbreviation: m- Compare ortho- (def. 4), para- 1 (def. 6)
- denoting an isomer, polymer, or compound related to a specified compound (often differing from similar compounds that are prefixed by para-)metaldehyde
- denoting an oxyacid that is a lower hydrated form of the anhydride or a salt of such an acidmetaphosphoric acid Compare ortho- (def. 5)
Word Origin and History for meta-
word-forming element meaning 1. "after, behind," 2. "changed, altered," 3. "higher, beyond;" from Greek meta (prep.) "in the midst of, in common with, by means of, in pursuit or quest of," from PIE *me- "in the middle" (cf. German mit, Gothic miþ, Old English mið "with, together with, among;" see mid). Notion of "changing places with" probably led to senses "change of place, order, or nature," which was a principal meaning of the Greek word when used as a prefix (but also denoting "community, participation; in common with; pursuing").
Third sense, "higher than, transcending, overarching, dealing with the most fundamental matters of," is due to misinterpretation of metaphysics as "science of that which transcends the physical." This has led to a prodigious erroneous extension in modern usage, with meta- affixed to the names of other sciences and disciplines, especially in the academic jargon of literary criticism, which affixes it to just about anything that moves and much that doesn't.
- Later in time:metestrus.
- At a later stage of development:metanephros.
- Situated behind:metacarpus.
- Change; transformation:metachromatism.
- Beyond; transcending; more comprehensive:metapsychology.
- At a higher state of development:metazoan.
- Having undergone metamorphosis:metamyelocyte.
- Derivative or related chemical substance:metaprotein.
- Of or relating to one of three possible isomers of a benzene ring with two attached chemical groups, in which the carbon atoms with attached groups are separated by one unsubstituted carbon atom. Usually used in italic:meta-dibromobenzene.