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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" (cf. 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.
meta- or met-
Later in time: metestrus.
At a later stage of development: metanephros.
Situated behind: metacarpus.
Change; transformation: metachromatism.
Beyond; transcending; more comprehensive: metapsychology.
At a higher state of development: metazoan.
Having undergone metamorphosis: metamyelocyte.
Derivative or related chemical substance: metaprotein.
Abbr. m- Of or relating to one of three possible isomers of a benzene ring with two attached chemical groups, in which the carbon atoms with attached groups are separated by one unsubstituted carbon atom. Usually used in italic: meta-dibromobenzene.