Ben Zimmer's work on 'meta' inspires metajournalism

The Boston Globe | Visual Thesaurus

Ben Zimmer's Sunday language column about the word "meta" describes how it changed from meaning "above and beyond" to mean “consciously self-referential." It is, as he writes in the clever beginning of the piece in which he imagines writing the column, "a perfect meta-commentary on the consciously self-referential age we live in."

But while Zimmer focuses on the etymological evolution of the word, its economic implications are probably beyond the scope of a language column. (Ben, feel free to address this in the comments section.) Why, just today in the meta-economy, Gawker's editorial staff and readers engaged in a discussion of an article that aggregated an article that aggregated another article. All in public. All terrifically meta! On his Visual Thesaurus site, Zimmer links to his original post and offers a sort of meta-column about his "meta" research: less cute than the original but delving deeper into the history of the prefix, which has become an adjective and is now becoming a noun.

He also links to an NPR story from the weekend that begins with reporter Guy Raz pulling up an email he wrote to Zimmer as he prepares to interview him about the word "meta"; in the story, Zimmer discusses an incident last year when Occupy protesters in New York crashed a simulated Occupy camp the producers of "Law & Order" had constructed for an episode in a "mockupy" protest. If I hadn't just reported out a piece about how a piece of reporting about two reporters' reporting came together, that's exactly the kind of thing that would really addle my metabolism.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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