The popular Oxford website defines meeple thusly:
A small figure used as a playing piece in certain board games, having a stylized human form
ex: each player is given eight wooden meeples.
And the origin:
Early 21st century: apparently a blend of my and a phonetic respelling of people and first used with reference to the board game Carcassonne.
Blend of my and people. Coined in November of 2000 by Alison Hansel during a game of Carcassonne when she fused “my” and “people” to describe the wooden figures used by each player in that game.
Since 2000, the term has spread far and wide beyond Carcassonne into any game system using roughly human-shaped playing pieces. The term has spawned derivatives as well, such as animeeple for the upgraded components of Agricola. And new custom meeple are widely available for adding additional coolness to your favorite games.
I should note Oxford English Dictionaries is somewhat different than the Oxford English Dictionary. The latter being a famously comprehensive dictionary of the English language first published in 1884 through the combined efforts of many people including a determined linguist and an asylum-bound madman.
Rather, Oxford English Dictionaries focuses on contemporary slang, and additions filed concurrently with meeple include fast-casual, cat cafe, mic drop and hangry. Hangry is of course the state of anger due to excessive hunger. I certainly know the feeling.
Make no mistake, the addition of meeple is an accomplishment. Oxford English Dictionaries exists as a database of contemporary English language, and its editors are by no means board game fanatics. This is yet another continuing sign of the slow movement of modern board games from a fringe activity to being accepted and appreciated by mainstream society.
Meeple might be there today, who knows what will come tomorrow. Worker placement? Point salad? Parasitic conflict? It’s a bright new world.