I checked beta in a dictionary and it says beta is the second letter of the Greek alphabet, so does the beta mean second-class?

I can't understand the explanation in a dictionary about meta. Could you teach me?

  • 2
    I changed stock to stack in your question title, as I suspect that you actually mean this website.
    – oerkelens
    Sep 25, 2014 at 6:22
  • This question.... might belong to meta as well :D Sep 26, 2014 at 5:28

2 Answers 2


Beta (β) is indeed the second letter in the Greek alphabet[1].

In software development, a first testable version of a product is sometimes called the alpha (α) version, or first version. It is tested by designated testers, usually within the company that makes the software.

If that test is passed, the software may be released to a (larger) group of testers, but these testers are actually normal end-users. This version is the second version, or beta. During the beta test period, users are encouraged to report any errors or bugs they find to the company.

Google made it a habit of releasing their software in beta while releasing it eventually to (almost) all of their users, and their “beta test period” could be very very long.

While software is “beta”, it means that there is no guarantee that the software is bug-free or that all features work correctly.

From the meaning in software (beta = public test version), it is now used in other areas as well. On Stack Exchange, a beta site is a site that has not yet been promoted to full functionality. After a site has been proposed, and people are found to support it, a site can go to beta status to show that it can really be useful and successful. It is not a second-class site, but a site in the final test stage.

As for ELL, this site has been in beta for quite a long time now, and quite some people are wondering why it is not promoted to full status yet. Rumour has it that this may actually happen quite soon. You can read more about the StackExchange site statuses on Area 51 and Meta.

That brings us to meta: this means over or about. The word is used to indicate that you talk about something “one level higher”, in an abstract way. I think some examples will clarify the meaning:

ELL is a Stack Exchange site about English for learners. Meta ELL is a site about ELL.

Should I use present perfect or simple present? <- an ELL question.
Should we be nicer to ELL users? <- an ELL meta question.

We can have a discussion about subject X. We can have a meta discussion about that discussion.

I think that X is true because of Y and X. <- discussion
This discussion is going nowhere because you are not listening to any of my arguments. <- meta-discussion

If I write a book with all the words in a language and their meaning, I have written a dictionary.

If I write a book about how to write a dictionary, I can say I have written a meta dictionary.

[1]In standard English, an alphabet is a collection of letters. In Indian English an alphabet can mean a single character, but it may and will confuse speakers of other English dialects!

  • 6
    It may be of interest to readers to point out that the word alphabet comes from those letters alpha and beta.
    – KRyan
    Sep 25, 2014 at 14:10
  • In computer science, one can consider the alphabet with no characters!
    – user10092
    Sep 25, 2014 at 17:03
  • 1
    I think that meta-dictionary would have to be a dictionary for use when writing a dictionary, not just a general book.
    – svick
    Sep 25, 2014 at 17:14
  • 2
    @Svick Yes, meta is "X about X" where X is the same in both cases. So in this case a Q&A site about a Q&A site. Metadata is Data about Data, Metamaps are Maps of Maps, Metaverse is Universes of Universes, etc.
    – Tim B
    Sep 25, 2014 at 17:45
  • 1
    Yeah, I believe the literal translation of meta is "beyond." Metaphysics is a school of philosophy in which scholars discuss the meaning of things beyond the physical world; the spirit, the soul, etc. Some young people in America use "meta" as an adjective in conjunction with media that practice self-commentary, i.e. an action movie which comments on the tropes of action movies.
    – Crazy Eyes
    Sep 25, 2014 at 21:42

Re meta, I agree that it means a higher level of abstraction, but I don't agree that it's simply "X about X". For many values of X, that doesn't even make sense. "Car about cars"? It might be better to say it's "information about information", in which the "information" can be about anything, or "an abstraction of X that describes or refers to X". For instance, in my view the Zachman Framework is an Enterprise Architecture meta-model, from which an actual EA model can be instantiated by binding the abstractions to real-world entities. (John A. Zachman agrees, BTW.)

"Meta" has overtones of two other intriguing concepts -- recursion and fractals, which are themselves intimately related, since a fractal is a recursion of a pattern at decreasing scale (e.g. the Mandelbrot Set). Think of a 3D printer that can make 3D printers, necessarily at decreasing scale until they become so tiny they need micro-manipulators to set them up for the next run. :) Is it a meta-printer?

As the author of a computer language / data / unstructured text expert system, I do meta every day, meta-meta often, and triple-meta occasionally. In fact, we refer to the system's rules language as "meta-code", because it's a computer language that manipulates computer languages in symbolic form.

There used to be a company named Meta 4, which was a very neat play on words, because their product was a computer emulation system that effectively created a "meta computer".

  • A meta-car would be, indeed, a car about cars -- perhaps a car-carrying trailer. Sep 26, 2014 at 2:14
  • 2
    The concept of "meta" can certainly lead to some interesting discussions, but how does this answer help someone learning English understand the difference between beta and meta in the context of the question they asked? I think a non-native speaker would struggle to understand your answer because of the terminology and the sentence structures you've used.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 26, 2014 at 3:09

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