metasyntactic &/or metasyntactic variable

A discussion of word histories and origins.
User avatar
Posts: 446
Joined: Thu Feb 10, 2005 10:48 am
Location: Boston, Mass

metasyntactic &/or metasyntactic variable

Postby eberntson » Wed Sep 10, 2008 4:02 pm

metasyntactic variable


This word combination of "metasyntactic variable" means a placeholder name or an alias term commonly used to denote the subject matter under discussion or an arbitrary member of a class of things under discussion. (cite: wikipedia)" A sort of construct, but it doesn't seem to be represented in webster or oxford dictionaries. Only online dictionaries seem to contain it.

In math & computer science an example is "foo", in economics it might be "widget". In marketing or politics it might be "soccer mom". In every day like "stuff".

So is "metasyntactic " a new word? Can two words be so closely coupled that they don't appear apart, then why don't we hyphenate them or just glob them together. It is the German coming out in me. Just remember compounding words is fun! :twisted: It seems some references "metasyntactic variable" as just "metasyntactic "

It must be a real word since there are 85K references in google for metasyntactic, and 46K references for "metasyntactic variable" on the web.

For the amount of usage this word should appear in common dictionaries a lot more. I would be really interest in knowing more about this apparently new and under represented noun.
Fear less, hope more;
eat less, chew more;
whine less, breathe more;
talk less, say more,
and all good things will be yours.
--R. Burns


Postby bnjtokyo » Thu Sep 11, 2008 4:30 am

"meta-" is a combining prefix that joins the following word
without a hyphen. For example "metamorphosis," "metalanguage" or

I understand "metasyntax" to be a syntax of syntax. Since the syntax of a language is
basically a grammar of the language, the metasyntax would be the rules governing the discussion of that language. Some of the goals of a metasyntax would be how to identify a "noun," "verb," "clause," "noun phrase," "anaphora," etc.

Return to “Etymology”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest