31

A while back I was talking about it with friends.

Another question indicates a few meanings of the "meta-" prefix. Considering that "meta" means, in simple words, "about itself" (like how metadata is data about data), what would be the appropriate prefix to mean the opposite relationship?

It seemed to us that "meta" raised a concept to a new level, and we were wondering what prefix would, conversely, lower a concept to another level. Is there another prefix I could use to cancel out the "meta" in "metadata" to get back to "data"?

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    Can you give an example of the sort of way you’re hoping to use this prefix? – PLL Feb 11 '11 at 1:04
  • @PLL I really don't have any concrete example. It's a completely theoric issue. We tend to abuse the meta prefix, and we came to wonder if there was an antonym. – zneak Feb 11 '11 at 3:48
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    I realise it's nearly a year on, but I happened to stumble across this question and found it ironic that you seem to have inadvertently answered your own question in your comment, because the way meta is used in metadata, it typically implies an abstraction of sorts, the opposite of which would be concrete data. – Amos M. Carpenter Feb 7 '12 at 12:54
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    I always thought the the opposite of meta- was -ɐʇəɯ. :) – tchrist May 14 '12 at 20:09
  • What about "unmeta"? If x is "metadata", then unmeta-x will give you "data" – Pacerier Jul 10 '14 at 6:29
8

Meta- comes from Ancient Greek, and in this sense means beyond, with, about or after. An example is Aristotle's Metaphysics which his editors placed after his Physics, and started readers thinking it might mean more than location. That suggests to me that the Latin pre- or Greek pro- could be possible antonyms used in a similar way.

But this would only help if people used it. Shall we try to push premetadata or prometadata? Or would actual data be more easily understood?

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    proto-, sub-, and infra- might also be options, depending on the particular examples the OP has in mind. – PLL Feb 11 '11 at 1:02
  • If metadata is what comes after and beyond data, then what comes before data should be sinedata, or slightly more modern and with slightly better additional etymological meaning sansdata. – Orbling Feb 11 '11 at 2:06
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    I also like infra-. Because meta- means transcending, encompassing, or 'a superset of...', then infra- would would be a proper antonym describing within, or 'a subset of...' If metadata is that data that describes the data within itself, then infradata should be that inferior data which is described. – oosterwal Feb 12 '11 at 9:26
  • I think terms like "sub-data" for the data that meta-data are about would be a bit misleading; it would imply three levels: sub-data, full data, and meta-data. "Sub-meta-data" would be theoretically consistent, but awkward. "Actual data" would work. Or perhaps just "data": if there are two levels, it will often be clear enough if just one is marked. – Cerberus Apr 26 '11 at 23:30
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    Or perhaps "base data"? – Cerberus Apr 26 '11 at 23:37
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May be a little late, but I was wondering about this today. I found this in-depth paper on the topic, so thought I'd share.

The conclusion they reach is that "mesa" is the opposite: What's the Opposite of Meta?

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    I like their way of thinking, but mesa wouldn't work in Greek. It is not a preposition, like meta, or a prefix. If they must use some form of mesos ("middle"), they should probably choose meso; but that would still not make much sense. Better use a prefix that means something in English. – Cerberus Apr 26 '11 at 23:36
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    Sure, I follow you and you have a valid point. However, there's a problem with using an existing English prefix, none of them mean exactly what it is we're trying to define. Composing prefixes just adds confusion since the individual prefixes already mean something specific in our minds. "Mesa" might not be a 1-to-1, but it's new and has a nice resemblance to "meta". Adoption of a new word is important and I think this resemblance can help. – Joe Apr 29 '11 at 20:06
  • I like how the paper you cited is actually addressing the issue outside of a particular field and trying to apply it broadly. It's clear we need a word like this in English so why not adopt it? It's alright if it doesn't have a strict parallel in whatever language we are stealing it from. – GenericJam Jul 19 '17 at 17:17
  • "mesa" in Greek means "in"... Doesn't really make sense (didn't read the paper). – gsamaras Dec 4 '18 at 7:21
1

I don't think there's a perfect match, but I think "shallow" or "concrete" might do in a pinch. "Ortho" and "para" are also perfectly good prefixes that need a new meaning.

  • "Ortho" means correct, e.g. Orthodox, or standing. "Para" is used when we want to say that something was to close to happen in Greek, or something. – gsamaras Dec 4 '18 at 7:27
0

First, it should be noted that in the twentieth century the prefix meta- acquired a relatively specific function, which it did not have before, and which is only loosely related to its original meaning in Greek language. This question is about this, relatively new, use of the prefix (in, for example, metadata and metatheory); the consideration of older words containing it, such as metaphysics or metaphrase is therefore not likely to be relevant.

Second, whenever an opposite of something is sought, the question arises: what kind of an opposite? Is the opposite of metaX that is sought here supposed to be (1) something that stands to X in the relationship that is the opposite of the relationship expressed by meta-, or (2) X that is not metaX? The next to last sentence of the question (about lowering as opposed to raising) seems to imply (1), but the last sentence (about cancelling out the meta-) seems to imply (2).

Now, metaX, in the sense of meta- that is relevant here, is X that is about other X: for example metadata are the data about other data, a metatheory is a theory about other theories. (Incidentally, it is misleading to say that metaX is 'about itself'; it is normally about other X.) The relationship of being about something does not have an opposite, in the way in which lowering is the opposite of raising. Therefore, if the question is seeking (1), the answer is that there is no such thing.

Let's suppose then that the question is seeking (2). In most cases, there is no need for a special term for (2); generally, X that is not metaX is referred to simply as X. MetaX is something that needs to be marked by a special term; when that special term is not used, but only the plain X, it can be presumed that ordinary (non-meta) X is referred to (or, alternatively that the distinction between metaX and ordinary X is not relevant). For example, when we hear the term data, we usually don't think of metadata, because we know that if they had been referred to, the more specific term metadata would have been used.

Nevertheless, there are some rare context in which we need to make it clear that the X we are talking about is not metaX. Thus if we have just been discussing metaX at some length, and we are now switching to discussing X that is not metaX, we need to make it clear that this is what we are doing; can that be accomplished without using the cumbersome phrase 'X that is not metaX'?

For some values of X, there may be a special term that means precisely X that is not metaX. There is thus an established term object language, which is used in contrast to metalanguage: the idea behind that term is that the object language is about extralinguistic objects, unlike metalanguage, which is about object language.

Given that metaX can be characterised as second-order X, one term than can often be used for X that is not metaX is first-order X; that term is the closest to the opposite of metaX. The only possible obstacle to using the term for that purpose in a particular context is that first-order is already used for some other purpose in the same context.

protected by RegDwigнt May 15 '12 at 15:52

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