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  1. the fundamental unit of length in the metric system, equivalent to 39.37 U.S. inches, originally intended to be, and being very nearly, equal to one ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to the pole measured on a meridian: defined from 1889 to 1960 as the distance between two lines on a platinum-iridium bar (the “International Prototype Meter”) preserved at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures near Paris; from 1960 to 1983 defined as 1,650,763.73 wavelengths of the orange-red radiation of krypton 86 under specified conditions; and now defined as 1/299,792,458 of the distance light travels in a vacuum in one second. Abbreviation: m
Also especially British, me·tre.

Origin of meter1

1790–1800; < French mètre < Greek métron measure


  1. Music.
    1. the rhythmic element as measured by division into parts of equal time value.
    2. the unit of measurement, in terms of number of beats, adopted for a given piece of music.Compare measure(def 14).
  2. Prosody.
    1. poetic measure; arrangement of words in regularly measured, patterned, or rhythmic lines or verses.
    2. a particular form of such arrangement, depending on either the kind or the number of feet constituting the verse or both rhythmic kind and number of feet (usually used in combination): pentameter; dactylic meter; iambic trimeter.
Also especially British, me·tre.

Origin of meter2

before 900; Middle English metir, metur, Old English meter < Latin metrum poetic meter, verse < Greek métron measure; replacing Middle English metre < Middle French < Latin as above


  1. an instrument for measuring, especially one that automatically measures and records the quantity of something, as of gas, water, miles, or time, when it is activated.
  2. parking meter.
verb (used with object), me·tered, me·ter·ing or (especially British) me·tred, me·tring.
  1. to measure by means of a meter.
  2. to process (mail) by means of a postage meter.
Also especially British, me·tre.

Origin of meter3

First recorded in 1805–15; see origin at mete1, -er1
Related formsun·me·tered, adjective


  1. a combining form meaning “measure,” used in the names of instruments measuring quantity, extent, degree, etc.: altimeter; barometer.
Compare -metry.

Origin of -meter

< New Latin -metrum < Greek métron measure
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for meter


  1. the US spelling of metre 1


  1. the US spelling of metre 2


  1. any device that measures and records the quantity of a substance, such as gas, that has passed through it during a specified period
  2. any device that measures and sometimes records an electrical or magnetic quantity, such as current, voltage, etc
  3. See parking meter
verb (tr)
  1. to measure (a rate of flow) with a meter
  2. to print with stamps by means of a postage meter

Word Origin

C19: see mete 1


n combining form
  1. indicating an instrument for measuringbarometer
  2. prosody indicating a verse having a specified number of feetpentameter

Word Origin

from Greek metron measure
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for meter


also metre, "poetic measure," Old English meter "meter, versification," from Latin metrum, from Greek metron "meter, a verse; that by which anything is measured; measure, length, size, limit, proportion," from PIE root *me- "measure" (see meter (n.2)). Possibly reborrowed early 14c. (after a 300-year gap in recorded use) from Old French metre, with specific sense of "metrical scheme in verse," from Latin metrum.


also metre, unit of length, 1797, from French mètre (18c.), from Greek metron "measure," from PIE root *me- "to measure" (cf. Greek metra "lot, portion," Sanskrit mati "measures," matra "measure," Avestan, Old Persian ma-, Latin metri "to measure"). Developed by French Academy of Sciences for system of weights and measures based on a decimal system originated 1670 by French clergyman Gabriel Mouton. Originally intended to be one ten-millionth of the length of a quadrant of the meridian.


"device for measuring," abstracted 1832 from gas-meter, etc., from French -mètre, used in combinations (in English from 1790), from Latin metrum "measure" or cognate Greek metron "measure" (see meter (n.2)). Influenced by English meter "person who measures" (late 14c., agent noun from mete (v.)). As short for parking meter from 1960. Meter maid first recorded 1957; meter reader 1963.


"to measure by means of a meter," 1884, from meter (n.3). Meaning "install parking meters" is from 1957.


word-forming element meaning "device or instrument for measuring; commonly -ometer, occasionally -imeter; from French -mètre, from Greek metron (see meter (n.3)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

meter in Medicine


  1. The standard unit of length in the International System of Units that is equivalent to 39.37 inches.


  1. Measuring device:refractometer.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

meter in Science


  1. The basic unit of length in the metric system, equal to 39.37 inches. See Table at measurement.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

meter in Culture


The highly organized rhythm characteristic of verse; the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line. (See iambic pentameter.)


The basic unit of length in the metric system; it was originally planned so that the circumference of the Earth would be measured at about forty million meters. A meter is 39.37 inches. Today, the meter is defined to be the distance light travels in 1 / 299,792,458 seconds.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.