Meta- originally meant beyond, or after. This is the sense it's used in metaphysics. Were this word coined today, it would probably be 'postphysics', rather than metaphysics. Meta- is often still used in the sciences in this original sense.

In medicine meta- often means behind; the metatarsals are behind the tarsals

Nowadays it has a new meaning: a second level of order, self-referential, x of x. See: Metacognition (thinking about thinking); Metanodes (nodes about nodes); Metadata; data about data.

Meta- comes from the Greek preposition meta (μετα) meaning "in the midst of", "among" or "with", which also came to have the meaning "after".

An html tag you can stuff in the head of your document. It is designed to pass on useful information to your browser about the document as a whole (rather than actual content, by means of string fields, e.g. <META name="Author" content="Haggai Scolnicov">. META http-equiv is used to tell the browser to do certain things involving http.

Also used to stuff in information aimed at search engine bots and crawlers to help them figure out the structure of a complete site, languages, and other, well, "meta" information.

People don't use this nearly enough in their HTML (prboably because they generated it with some awful html editor), and browsers don't really do anything to make this important info available, if and when it is there, except when it controls browsing behaviour (e.g. meta http-equiv). One omission leads to the other, and vice versa. It's a vicious circle.

See http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/struct/global.html#h-7.4.4 for the for what the Standard says.

<META http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html">
<META http-equiv="Content-Type" name="%c">

%c=

  • keywords (content="database,date base,everything,everything2")
  • description (content="A Wiki like database")
  • generator (content="Notepad")
  • author (content="Nate Oostendorp")
  • copyright (content="© 1998-2000 EveryDevel")
  • expires (content="31 December 2000") (Why not just use <META http-equiv="Expires" content="Sun, 31 Dec 2000 14:25:27 GMT">?)

    More details on refreshing, META scheme, &c, especially if people e-mail or /msg me.

meta- is a concept in philosophy and linguistics in used for talking about things. Yea, thats pretty vague. Some examples are Metasyntax is the language used for talking about syntax. A metasearch engine is a search engine of search engines. Metafont is an abstraction of fonts used for describing various letters are displayed. Let us not forget about a metanode

This concept was first used by David Hilbert in the sense that we use it in metalanguage, metatheory, and metasystem. He introduced the term metamathematics to denote a mathematical theory of mathematical proof. That is, a mapping of proofs in the form of natural language text onto a set of texts in a formal logical language which makes it possible to treat proofs as precisely defined mathematical objects. This lead to Godel's Theorem.

Meta is from the Greek word μετα, a preposition that originally meant "among" and later took on other meanings like "with" and "after". It's related to words like the English 'amid' and German 'mit'. In Latin it was often translated by trans.

Often meta has a reflexive meaning, as something self-referential. Metacommunication (communication about communication), metanode (a node about nodes).

Sometimes meta implies a change in state: metathesis (transposition of sounds), metamorphosis (change of shape).

Sometimes meta implies a deeper meaning: metaphor (figure of speech), metaphysical (supernatural, ontological).

Of course, the meaning of 'meta' is anything but nailed down; half these examples don't work diachronically ('metaphor', for example, could easily be nothing but a calque of 'transfer' or 'carryover').


In emacs Meta is usually the Alt key.

mess-dos = M = meta bit

meta /me't*/ or /may't*/ or (Commonwealth) /mee't*/ adj.,pref.

[from analytic philosophy] One level of description up. A metasyntactic variable is a variable in notation used to describe syntax, and meta-language is language used to describe language. This is difficult to explain briefly, but much hacker humor turns on deliberate confusion between meta-levels. See hacker humor.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

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