Future

Polish Hideout? Zambian Shave? Translating The "Meta" Meanings Of Facebook’s New Name

The embattled U.S. tech giant has unveiled a new name for its holding company: Meta. It will do little to soften the rising criticism of Facebook's practices. Indeed, across the world's many languages, we find the new name translates into all kinds of good content.

Photo of hands zooming in on a phone screen that displays the logo and name of Facebook's new name, Meta.

What's in a meta name...?

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 comes 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

GIF of a child scared by the fish he's just caught Giphy


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

GIF of Mark Zuckerberg Giphy


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

Giphy


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…"

Hebrew R.I.P.

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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Geopolitics

In Sudan, A Surprise About-Face Marks Death Of The Revolution

Ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was the face of the "stolen revolution". The fact that he accepted, out of the blue, to return at the same position, albeit on different footing, opens the door to the final legitimization of the coup.

Sudanese protesters demonstrating against the military regime in London on Nov. 20, 2021

Nesrine Malik

A little over a month ago, a military coup in Sudan ended a military-civilian partnership established after the 2019 revolution that removed President Omar al-Bashir after almost 30 years in power. The army arrested the Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and, along with several of his cabinet and other civil government officials, threw him in detention. In the weeks that followed, the Sudanese military and their partners in power, the Rapid Support Forces, moved quickly.

They reappointed a new government of “technocrats” (read “loyalists”), shut down internet services, and violently suppressed peaceful protests against the coup and its sabotaging of the 2019 revolution. During those weeks, Hamdok remained the symbol of the stolen revolution, betrayed by the military, detained illegally, unable to communicate with the people who demanded his return. In his figure, the moral authority of the counter-coup resided.

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Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
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