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Facebook’s “Meta” Metamorphosis: A Sociolinguistic Analysis

By Farooq Kperogi Twitter: @farooqkperogi Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook—along with Instagram and WhatsApp— will now be subsu...

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook—along with Instagram and WhatsApp— will now be subsumed under a parent company called “Meta” (which many people misunderstand to mean that the Facebook social media app will be renamed “Meta”) has inspired a profusion of creative and hilarious sociolinguistic memes. I’ll explore only two here.

The first ingenious socio-lexical domestication of “meta” in my social media circles came from Nigeria’s Yoruba people. Meta means three in the Yoruba language. And, by a stroke of happenstance, it so happens that Meta has three prominent apps: Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp!

Yoruba meme creators attributed Zuckerberg’s choice of a “Yoruba word” to name his company to the fact of his surprise August 2016 visit to Lagos during which he indulged in Yoruba gastronomic adventures that led him to eat fufu, efo (vegetable soup), and fish with his bare hands! You can’t eat fufu and efo and be immune from Yoruba linguistic influences, they say.

The number three also has a lot of idiomatic significance in Yoruba. "Okunrin meta," literally three-person man, indicates a man of uncommon valor, of superabundant heroic qualities. And Yoruba people say eku ojo meta to each other when they haven't seen each other for an extended period.

Jews (Zuckerberg is a Jew) are also having a raucous laughter party at Zuckerberg’s expense over the name “meta.” In Hebrew, many Jews have pointed out on social media, “meta” means death!

 Hebrew is an Afro-Asiatic language like Arabic, Hausa, Amharic. In most Afro-Asiatic languages, death is lexicalized from the proto-Afro-Asiatic root word “mt.” The vowels in “mt” shift but the consonants are fairly stable. 

That’s why in Hebrew it’s “meta,” in Arabic it’s “mawt,” in Amharic it is “moti,” and in Hausa it is “mutuwa.” Only Hausa has the additional “wa,” which probably happened as a consequence of the influences of surrounding languages, possibly from the first Chadic language that fused with it thousands of years ago. But the verb form is still "mutu."

Jewish trolls wonder if Zuckerberg skipped his Hebrew classes or if he literally has a death wish, particularly in light of the unprecedented existential threats the company is contending with now.

The truth, though, is that Meta is actually the short form of Metaverse, a futuristic universe that will fuse the real world, social media, and augmented virtual reality. The “meta” in metaverse is a Latin prefix for “above” or “beyond.” 

Those of us who earn a living by trafficking in recondite erudition habitually talk of “metanarratives,” “metacognition,” “metaphysics,” and even “metaknowledge,” where “meta” means transcendence, i.e., rising above something.  

“Metaverse” is obviously a lexical blend of “meta” and “universe,” which literally semanticizes it as “beyond the universe.” Beyond the universe promises to defamiliarize our usual knowledge of the world we live in. So, everyone, get ready for an exciting, unpredictable ride, with Zuckerberg as the driver! I won’t be there with you, though. 


  1. An interesting addition to sociolinguistics discourse

  2. Sir, looking at your intellect and intelligence, you belong to - or should I say "belong in?" - another world. Many thanks for the time and effort you selflessly sacrifice for the pedagogical - hence epistemological - benefits of society.

  3. Sir, as one who works to make ends meet by "trafficking in recondite erudition* - to borrow the words from you - does the Bible really mean that the wicked will be tormented for all eternity in hell fire? You are a Moslem but I am 100% there in the certainty that you can address the Bible-related question.

    Thank you Professor.


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