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" (cognates: 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.
metabolic (adj.)
1845 in biological sense, from German metabolisch (1839), from Greek metabolikos "changeable," from metabole "a change, changing, a transition" (see metabolism). Used earlier in a general sense of "involving change" (1743). Related: Metabolically.
metabolism (n.)
in physiology sense, 1878, from French métabolisme, from Greek metabole "a change," from metaballein "to change," from meta- "over" (see meta-) + ballein "to throw" (see ballistics).
metabolize (v.)
1887 (transitive), 1934 (intransitive), from Greek metabole "a change" (see metabolism) + -ize. Related: Metabolized; metabolizing.
metacarpus (n.)
1650s, Modern Latin, from Greek metakarpion, from meta- (see meta-) + karpos "wrist" (see carpus). Related: Metacarpal.
metacommunication (n.)
1951, from meta- + communication.
metal (n.)
mid-13c., from Old French metal "metal; material, substance, stuff" (12c.), from Latin metallum "metal; mine, quarry, mineral, what is got by mining," from Greek metallon "metal, ore" (senses only in post-classical texts; originally "mine, quarry, pit"), probably from metalleuein "to mine, to quarry," of unknown origin, but related somehow to metallan "to seek after." Compare Greek metalleutes "a miner," metalleia "a searching for metals, mining."
metal (adj.)
late 14c., from metal (n.).
metallic (adj.)
1560s, from Middle French métallique or directly from Latin metallicus, from Greek metallikos, from metallon (see metal).
metallurgy (n.)
1704, from Modern Latin metallurgia, from Greek metallourgos "worker in metal," from metallon "metal" (see metal) + ergon "work" (see organ). Related: Metallurgical; metallurgist.
metamathematics (n.)
1890, from meta- + mathematics.
metamorphic (adj.)
1833 (Lyell) in the geological sense, in reference to rock whose form has been changed by heat or pressure, from metamorphosis + -ic. Earlier (1816) in non-technical sense "characterized by change."
metamorphism (n.)
1837, from metamorphic + -ism.
metamorphize (v.)
"metamorphose," 1590s, from Greek meta (see meta-) + morphe (see Morpheus) + -ize. Related: Metamorphized; metamorphizing. Alternative verbal form metamorphosize attested from 1841.
metamorphose (v.)
1570s, from Middle French métamorphoser (16c.), from métamorphose (n.), from Latin metamorphosis (see metamorphosis). Related: Metamorphosed. The Greek verb was metamorphoun.
metamorphosis (n.)
1530s, "change of form or shape," especially by witchcraft, from Latin metamorphosis, from Greek metamorphosis "a transforming, a transformation," from metamorphoun "to transform, to be transfigured," from meta- "change" (see meta-) + morphe "form" (see Morpheus). Biological sense is from 1660s. As the title of Ovid's work, late 14c., Metamorphoseos, from Latin Metamorphoses (plural).
metanalysis (n.)
1914, from meta- + analysis. Coined by Danish philologist Otto Jespersen (1860-1943).
metanoia (n.)
1768, "penitence, spiritual conversion," from Greek metanoia "afterthought, repentance," from metanoein "to change one's mind or purpose," from meta- (see meta) + noein "to have mental perception," from noos "mind, thought."
metaphor (n.)
late 15c., from Middle French metaphore (Old French metafore, 13c.), and directly from Latin metaphora, from Greek metaphora "a transfer," especially of the sense of one word to a different word, literally "a carrying over," from metapherein "transfer, carry over; change, alter; to use a word in a strange sense," from meta- "over, across" (see meta-) + pherein "to carry, bear" (see infer).
metaphoric (adj.)
1590s, from metaphor + -ic. Greek metaphorikos meant "apt at metaphors."
metaphorical (adj.)
1550s, from metaphor + -ical. Related: metaphorically.
metaphrastic (adj.)
1778, from Greek metaphrastikos "paraphrastic," from metaphrasis "paraphrase," from metaphrazein "to paraphrase, translate," from meta- (see meta-) + phrazein "to show, tell" (see phrase (n.)). Related: metaphrastically (1570s).
metaphysic (n.)
late 14c., from Medieval Latin metaphysica (see metaphysics). The usual form of metaphysics until 16c.; somewhat revived 19c. under German influence.
metaphysical (adj.)
early 15c., "pertaining to metaphysics," from methaphesik (late 14c.) + -al, and in part from Medieval Latin metaphysicalis, from Medieval Latin metaphysica (see metaphysics). It came to be used in the sense of "abstract, speculative" (among others by Johnson, who applied it to certain 17c. poets, notably Donne and Cowley, who used "witty conceits" and abstruse imagery). Related: Metaphysically.
metaphysician (n.)
1590s, from Middle French métaphysicien (14c.); see metaphysics + -ian.
metaphysics (n.)
1560s, plural of Middle English metaphisik, methaphesik (late 14c.), "branch of speculation which deals with the first causes of things," from Medieval Latin metaphysica, neuter plural of Medieval Greek (ta) metaphysika, from Greek ta meta ta physika "the (works) after the Physics," title of the 13 treatises which traditionally were arranged after those on physics and natural sciences in Aristotle's writings. The name was given c.70 B.C.E. by Andronicus of Rhodes, and was a reference to the customary ordering of the books, but it was misinterpreted by Latin writers as meaning "the science of what is beyond the physical." See meta- + physics. The word originally was used in English in the singular; plural form predominated after 17c., but singular made a comeback late 19c. in certain usages under German influence.
metapolitics (n.)
1784, "abstract political science;" see meta- + politics. Related: metapolitical, attested from 1670s in sense "outside the realm of politics."
metastasis (n.)
1570s, originally in rhetoric, from Late Latin metastasis "transition," from Greek metastasis "a removing, removal; migration; a changing; change, revolution," from methistanai "to remove, change," from meta- "over, across" (see meta-) + histanai "to place, cause to stand," from PIE root *sta- "to stand" (see stet). A rhetorical term in Late Latin for "a sudden transition in subjects," medical use for "shift of disease from one part of the body to another" dates from 1660s in English. Related: Metastatic.
metastasise (v.)
chiefly British English spelling of metastasize. Related: Metastasised; metastasising.
metastasize
1826, from metastasis + -ize. Related: Metastasized; metastasizing.
metatarsal (adj.)
1739, from metatarsus (1670s), from Modern Latin metatarsus, from meta- (see meta-) + tarsus (see tarsus). As a noun from 1854.
metathesis (n.)
1570s, "transposition of letters in a word;" c.1600, "rhetorical transposition of words," from Late Latin metathesis, from Greek metathesis "change of position, transposition, change of opinion," from stem of metatithenai "to transpose," from meta- "to change" (see meta-) + tithenai "to place, set" (see theme). Plural is metatheses. Related: Metathetic.
metathesize (v.)
1893, from metathesis + -ize. Related: Metathesized; metathesizing.
mete (v.)
"to allot," Old English metan "to measure, mete out; compare, estimate" (class V strong verb; past tense mæt, past participle meten), from Proto-Germanic *metan (cognates: Old Saxon metan, Old Frisian, Old Norse meta, Dutch meten, Old High German mezzan, German messen, Gothic mitan "to measure"), from PIE *med- "to take appropriate measures" (see medical). Used now only with out. Related: Meted; meting.
mete (n.)
"boundary," now only in phrase metes and bounds, late 15c., from Old French mete "limit, bounds, frontier," from Latin meta "goal, boundary, post, pillar."
metempsychosis (n.)
1580s, "passing of the soul at death into another body," from Late Latin metempsychosis, from Greek metempsychosis, from meta "change" (see meta-) + empsykhoun "to put a soul into," from en "in" + psyche "soul" (see psyche). Pythagorean word for transmigration of souls at death. Related: Metempsychose (v.), 1590s.
meteor (n.)
late 15c., "any atmospheric phenomenon," from Middle French meteore (13c.) and directly from Medieval Latin meteorum (nominative meteora), from Greek ta meteora "the celestial phenomena, things in heaven above," plural of meteoron, literally "thing high up," noun use of neuter of meteoros (adj.) "high up, raised from the ground, hanging," from meta- "over, beyond" (see meta-) + -aoros "lifted, hovering in air," related to aeirein "to raise" (see aorta).

Specific sense of "fireball, shooting star" is attested from 1590s. Atmospheric phenomena were formerly classified as aerial meteors (wind), aqueous meteors (rain, snow, hail), luminous meteors (aurora, rainbows), and igneous meteors (lightning, shooting stars).
meteoric (adj.)
1812, "pertaining to meteors;" earlier "dependent on atmospheric conditions" (1789), from meteor + -ic. Figurative sense of "transiently brilliant" is from 1836.
meteorite (n.)
"rock that falls to earth, after streaking across the sky as a meteor," 1818, from meteor + -ite.
meteoroid (n.)
"rock floating in space, which becomes a meteor when it enters Earth's atmosphere," formed in English, 1865, from meteor + -oid.
meteorological (adj.)
1560s, from Middle French météorologique or Greek meteorologikos; see meteorology + -ical. Related: Meteorologically.
meteorologist (n.)
1620s, from meteorology + -ist. Earlier was meteorologician (1570s). Greek meteorologos meant "one who deals with celestial phenomena, astronomer."
meteorology (n.)
"science of the atmosphere, weather forecasting," 1610s, from French météorologie and directly from Greek meteorologia "treatise on celestial phenomena, discussion of high things," from meteoron, literally "thing high up" (see meteor), + -logia "treatment of" (see -logy).
meter (n.1)
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- (2) "to 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.
meter (n.2)
also metre, unit of length, 1797, from French mètre (18c.), from Greek metron "measure," from PIE root *me- (2) "to measure" (cognates: 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.
meter (n.3)
"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.
meter (v.)
"to measure by means of a meter," 1884, from meter (n.3). Meaning "install parking meters" is from 1957.
meth (n.)
colloquial abbreviation of methedrine, attested from 1967.
methadone (n.)
1947, generic designation for 6-dimethylamino-4, 4-diphenyl-3-heptanone. For origins of the syllables, see methyl + amino + di- + -one.
methamphetamine (n.)
1949, from methyl + amphetamine; so called because it was a methyl derivative of amphetamine.