Why does "meta-" translate to “元-”?

For example, metadata=元数据, meta-analysis=元分析, metaphysics=元物理学。

I understand meta-X to mean "X that is about/of/concerning X". But 元 tends to mean "basic/original/fundamental". Why have people used it for "meta-"?

2 Answers 2


A basic meaning of "元" is "primary/first".

"metadata" - a set of (existing/primary) data that describes and gives information about other data.

"meta-analysis" - "examination of data from a number of (existing/primary) independent studies of the same subject, in order to determine overall trends. "

"metaphysics" - the branch of philosophy that deals with the first(元) principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space"


Maybe, meta comes from here: the meta-programming is translated as 元编程.

p.s. as a chinese software developer, I also can't understand why meta = 元. Also including these tranlation:

  • socket: 嵌套字
  • stack: 堆栈
  • private key: 私钥
  • Hash: 哈希

The Chinese translation from English is full of bullshit. So we in most cases we speak English word instead of Chinese.

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