Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
May 30th, 2015
Episode 211 of 900 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 30, 2015 is: metadata \met-uh-DAY-tuh\ noun : data that provides information about other data Examples: The investigator used metadata from phone company records to identify the culprit behind the harassing calls. "The intended point was that the NSA wasn't collecting the words we said during our phone conversations, only the phone numbers of the two parties, and the date, time, and duration of the call. This seemed to mollify many people, but it shouldn't have. Collecting metadata on people means putting them under surveillance." Bruce Schneier, Wired, March 25, 2015 Did you know? It's easy to find data on the source of metadata: the word was formed by combining data with meta-, which means "transcending" and is often used to describe a new but related discipline designed to deal critically with the original one. Meta- was first used in that way in metaphysics and has been extended to a number of other disciplines, giving us such words as metapsychology and metamathematics. Metadata takes the "transcending" aspect a step further, applying it to the concept of pure information instead of a discipline. Metadata is a fairly new word (it first appeared in print in 1968), whereas "data" can be traced back to the 17th century.