Mark Zuckerberg’s unveiling of the new name for his company was a global event. And the choice has an international (ancient) ring: Meta, a word that tends to be used today to mean self-referencing, though the Greek prefix μετα refers to “after” or “beyond.” Yes, another sign of the limitlessness of Zuck’s ambitions.
But to paraphrase Spiderman, with great ambitions come at least a bit of foolishness. And choosing a four-letter word with global roots was bound to create a rolling, international faux pas (that’s French for false step!). Meta, it turns out, has many different (and sometimes unpleasant) meanings in different languages and cultures around the world. Here’s a quick sampling:
Something fishy in Sweden
In Sweden, a country of 100,000 lakes, “meta” is the word for angle fishing. While meta is the preferred method for catching perch, the Swedish Association for Sport Fishing notes that with the proper technique and bait, this primitive approach can in fact be used to catch all the common fish found in the northern country.
From Italy: chariot races and poop
It all started in the Roman circuses, where the word “meta” meant the cone-shaped columns in the middle of the arena that marked the turning points for carriages — it was the most exciting and dangerous part of the chariot races. From its Latin origins, the word meta turned into “objective” or “final destination” in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
But searching further, Italians may find a more archaic meaning of the word that is still used in agriculture: Meta is the name given to the pyramid-shaped piles of straw, hay, manure and excrement rising in the fields. And as a consequence, it also means “excrement of a large animal, emitted at once”.
If Italians won’t immediately connect the new tech giant’s name to a conic-shaped pile of excrement, then they may incur in another mistake. While messaging people, we now tend to leave out accents. So meta can easily be confused with an accentless metà, or half. As children’s book author Gianni Rodari wrote, “because of an accent someone thought he was at the goal and was just halfway”.
Colombia won’t sue
In one remote corner of Colombia, the rebranding was welcomed. Juan Guillermo Zuluaga, the Governor of the central department of Meta — named after the Meta River that originates in the Andes — humorously said on Twitter that he’s already met up with Mark Zuckerberg and won’t sue Facebook for appropriating the name. “We all fit in Meta,” he tweeted, sharing an invitation to Meta’s largest cultural event: the International Tournament of Joropo dance.
Hairy in Malawi
In Chichewa, a language common to the African nations of Malawi and Zambia, Meta means “to shave.” That shouldn’t be much of a problem for Mark Zuckerberg…but what’s Chichewa for nice haircut?
Speakeasy notes from Poland
In Polish, one formal meaning of the word is similar to the Italian one linking to destination, or finish line. But as a Facebook commenter noted, it’s also used in Poland to mean a hiding place for criminals or somewhere to buy illegal alcohol. How do you say that in Palo Alto? Safe House? Speakeasy? Bootlegger den?!
Catalan speed IRL
In Catalan, it’s short for metamfetamina, i.e., meth. Awkward.
Under the Bulgarian rug
Meta is “I sweep” in Bulgarian. Here is a Bulgarian director’s take on it:
“I sweep, you sweep, he sweeps… The big sweeping is shaping up…”
The bad news for Meta P.R. teams in Israel is that their new company sounds like מֵתָה, the Hebrew word for “dead.” The good news is that it only applies to the feminine form of the word. Let’s say it’s not a half-bad name choice!
Ultimate Urdu suggestion
In Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, meta means “Delete.” We know Facebook doesn’t like to remove offensive content, but maybe this is the ultimate suggestion on this rebranding.
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