What does it mean that a method or field is "static" in java?

Static variables and methods are instantiated only once per class. In other words they are class variables, not instance variables. If you change the value of a static variable in a particular object, the value of that variable changes for all instances of that class. Static methods can be referenced with the name of the class rather than the name of a particular object of the class (though that works too). That’s how library methods like System.out.println() work. out is a static field in the java.lang.System class.