Meta

The first time I learned about the concept of “meta” (though not by that name) was in my undergrad when I was taking first year drama and we studied a play called Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, which we were taught was “self-reflexive”1 – i.e., it reflected on itself. In the case of Six Characters in Search of an Author, it was a play about a play in which characters, known as The Characters, show up and interact with The Actors and The Director.

Sometimes described as “X about X”, meta means “a prefix added to the name of something that consciously references or comments upon its own subject or features” (Source). So, a play about a play would be a meta-play. (Meta can also be defined as “a prefix added to the name of a subject and designating anothersubject that analyzes the original one but at a more abstract, higher level”, but for this blog posting I’m going with the “X about X” definition.). 

I started noticing a number of things that were meta and once you start thinking about it, you start to see it everywhere! For example, I’ve come across a number of meta things at work:

  • Metadata – data about data
  • Meta-analysis – when you analyze a bunch of studies to combine their results (so, in a sense, you are analyzing the previous analyses)
  • Meta-evaluation – evaluating an evaluation
  • Meta-scope – at work we had a group determining the scope of the project, but we had to determine the scope of what the scope group was going to scope
  • Meta-scrum – in Agile project management, you have something called a scrum meeting (where each working team gets together each day to plan its work) and one person from each scrum team (the scrum master) goes to a meeting of all the scrum masters, called the “scrum of scrums.” ButI liked to call it the “meta-scrum”
  • Meta-checklista checklist about making checklists
  • Meta-cognition/meta-thinking – thinking about how you think

And in things I’ve read lately:

  • Meta-measurement error – measurement error in the measurement of error2
  • Meta-approach – approaching how to approach things3
  • Meta-insurancethis article in the Globe and Mail talks about insurance on insurance and while they call it “re-insurance”, I think it could be called meta-insurance.
  • Meta-engagement – engagement about engagement (see: Pat’s blog)
  • Meta-update – update about updates (see: Pat’s blog again)
  • Meta-skepticism – this article caused a lot of discussion in the skeptical movement and I’m not saying that I think it was a good article; rather, it got me thinking about how you could be skeptical of skepticism and that would be meta-skepticism
  • Meta-passionate – being passionate about being passionate (see: Kalev’s blog)

Going with the arts theme, which is where I first learned of meta, you can have lots of meta-art:

  • Meta-fiction – fiction about fiction
  • Meta-literature – literature about literature
  • Meta-book – a book about books
  • Meta-writing – writing about writing
  • Meta-brochure4 – a brochure about brochures
  • Meta-journalism – journalism about journalism
  • Meta-painting – a painting of someone painting
  • Meta-photography – a photograph of a photograph
  • Meta-drama/meta-theatre/meta-play – a play about a play
  • Meta-film – a film about film
  • Meta-lecture – a lecture about lectures
  • Meta-blogging – blogging about blogging
  • Meta-tweeting – tweeting about tweeting5

And they I started thinking about all kinds of other things you could meta:

  • Meta-review – reviewing a review
  • Meta-monitoring – monitoring your monitoring
  • Meta-reflection – reflecting on reflecting
  • Meta-strategizing – strategizing about strategizing
  • Meta-decision – making decisions about making decisions
  • Metaphilosophy – philosophy about philosophy
  • Metaethics – the ethics of ethics
  • Meta-criticism – criticism of a criticism
  • Meta-data collection – data collection about your data collection
  • Meta-communication – communicating about communicating
  • Meta-planning – planning to plan
  • Meta-trying – trying to try
  • Meta-issue – having an issue with an issue
  • Meta-risk – a risk about risks
  • Meta-reporting – reporting about reporting
  • Meta-meeting – a meeting about meetings
  • Meta-assumptions – assumptions about assumptions
  • Meta-estimates – estimates of estimate
  • Meta-goals – goals about goals
  • Meta-objection – objections about objections
  • Meta-emotion – feelings about feelings
  • Meta-acceleration – accelerating the acceleration of something
  • Meta-pedantry – being a pedant about pedantry
  • Meta-idea – an idea about ideas
  • Meta-interactions – interactions of interactions
  • Meta-iterations – iterations of iterations
  • Meta-workaround – a workaround to get around workarounds
  • Meta-band-aid – a band-aid solution to cover up other band-aid solutions
  • Meta-blister – when a blister gets the blister (those are the worst!)
  • Meta-rabbit hole – when you follow rabbit holes and they have
  • Meta-joke – a joke about jokes
  • Meta-meta – being meta about meta (does this blog posting count as that?)

Although I’m sure there are countless more examples that I could come up with, I feel like I’m all meta’d out. The only other “meta” that pops to mind is metaphysics, which is “is a branch of philosophy investigating the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it” (Source). Which isn’t really physics about physics, is it? I’m not sure why it’s called metaphysics (but if anyone else knows, please enlighten me!)

Also, I can’t figure out why sometimes “meta” is hyphenated (as in meta-analysis), but other times it’s not (as in metadata)6.

  1. Although I see it is described in the Wikipedia entry as “metatheatrical” []
  2. I read about this idea, though not by this name, in a journal article too []
  3. I actually read about this one in a journal article. []
  4. OK, brochures aren’t “art”, but I was thinking about stuff people write. []
  5. And you could go on like this re: any other form of social media []
  6. For any of the words I made up (or that I made up as far as I knowledge), I’ve hyphenated it. []