Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dear world, what IS meta?

Hi. My name is Susan and I decided to start a blog about things that are meta, in between the other things that I do (work; drink; sleep; eat; zumba). It has been pointed out to me already that if I were truly being meta, I would start a blog about blogs. But alas, that has already been done.

For context, please note that my use of the word meta tends to drive my ex college roomie a bit crazy, as she is a bona fide philosphy major who actually knows what meta means. She didn't like it then [when we tried to create a 'metaism of the day' #MOD hashtag on twitter], and she probably doesn't like it now [that I am creating a blog two years later].

To that end, and to get this blog started off on the right (or less wrong) foot, I have commissioned an introduction to the word 'meta' by philosophy expert, sports journalist, and meta expert herself, Rachel Orland. Her guest entry is as follows, and please note that any and all reader contributions on viewing life through the 'meta lens' will be warmly accepted - from stories and words to photographs and videos. After reading Rachel's analysis below, I think you will agree with me that the concept of 'meta' is so complex that it merits a blog at very least, if not an entire book. Oh wait, those have been written. -->

What IS Meta?
By Rachel Orland

Throughout the history of philosophy, the term "meta" has had various meanings. In Greek, the prefix "meta" has several connotations, which makes the matter more confusing. For instance, in the original Greek, "meta" can mean "after," "adjacent," or "self." Though somewhat related, these simple English words are not complete synonyms. Today, "meta" is most commonly used to mean that one thing is about something else. For instance, in philosophical discourse, "meta-ethics" can be taken to mean "ethics about ethics."

The term "meta" lends itself to everyday usage because of the systematic nature of the word itself. For example, "metalogic" is essentially logic about logic. Outside of the realm of philosophy, many people use the term "meta," too. For instance, a "metaphor" is a figure of speech that conceptualizes one thing in terms of another.

According to Wikipedia, there are 513 different ways to use the term "meta" in the ancient Greek. I would argue that there are just as many usages for the term "meta" in commonplace English. On a more personal note, several of my friends have taken to using the term "meta" as a word in itself, and not as a prefix. The adjective "meta" as in, "That's so meta!" is easy to understand, but harder to define. As a philosophy major, my friends have often asked me for a precise definition of "meta."

While I can explain the ancient Greek origins of the term as a prefix in the philosophical world, I have never been able to quite grasp the everyday usage of "meta." As I stated, I understand what someone is referring to when he or she says, "That's so meta!" But when asked for a layman's terms definition of its everyday usage, I cannot formulate a totally competent and comprehensive answer. I believe that part of the confusion exists in the fact that my friends use "meta" to mean so many different things. For instance, a sign for a sign store has been described to me as "meta" or, more recently, an email about an email.

The term "meta" has a special place in my heart as a philosophy major. But I will not utilize the term "meta" as an adjective in everyday life. My friends know that I get angry when they use the term "meta" in everyday conversation. Hence, I believe that the term "meta" should remain as a purely philosophical term. Let the meta-ethicists, the meta-logicians, and the meta-physicists be!

Ok Ms. Orland. Well, we can agree to disagree.

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