parameter

noun
pa·​ram·​e·​ter | \ pə-ˈra-mə-tər How to pronounce parameter (audio) \

Definition of parameter

1a : an arbitrary constant whose value characterizes a member of a system (such as a family of curves) also : a quantity (such as a mean or variance) that describes a statistical population
b : an independent variable used to express the coordinates of a variable point and functions of them — compare parametric equation
2 : any of a set of physical properties whose values determine the characteristics or behavior of something parameters of the atmosphere such as temperature, pressure, and density
3 : something represented by a parameter : a characteristic element broadly : characteristic, element, factor political dissent as a parameter of modern life health care is a universal parameter, … a ubiquitous concern across every age, occupation, and class line. — Wayne Biddle
4 : limit, boundary usually used in plural the parameters of science fictionThe investigation stayed within the parameters set by the court.

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Other Words from parameter

parametric \ ˌper-​ə-​ˈme-​trik How to pronounce parameter (audio) , ˌpa-​rə-​ \ adjective
parametrically \ ˌper-​ə-​ˈme-​tri-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce parameter (audio) , ˌpa-​rə-​ \ adverb

Parameter vs. Perimeter

It's very easy to confuse parameter with perimeter. Not only do the two words sound the same, they both connote a boundary or limit.

When parameter is used to mean "a boundary or limit," it is usually in its plural form, and often as the object of a preposition such as within or beyond:

Let's face it, managing weight loss or maintenance can be trying enough within the parameters of a daily routine.
Geoff Kerr, Weight Watchers, November 1991

Though candor sometimes encourages Bruno to "stray beyond the parameters of good taste," his interaction with Lydia is always convincingly portrayed as a loving, tender relationship.
Ron Charles, The Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2011

In geometry, perimeter refers to the boundary of a closed plane figure. You might remember calculating perimeters in school. If each side of an equilateral triangle measures 9 feet, then the perimeter of the triangle measures 27 feet. In more general use, perimeter describes an outer stretch, as in "The college president lived in a house on the perimeter of the campus."

Parameter originally had a meaning pertaining to mathematics as well. The dictionary defines it as "an arbitrary constant whose value characterizes a member of a system (as a family of curves); also : a quantity (as a mean or variance) that describes a statistical population" as well as "an independent variable used to express the coordinates of a variable point and functions of them."

Some twentieth-century usage commentators objected to the use of a scientific-sounding word like parameter in general contexts (as in the examples above), especially to mean "a limit or boundary," theorizing that perimeter must have been what the speaker or writer intended.

However, perimeter was not often used in the phrasings that parameter is used in (that is, as the object of within or beyond) until much later. In fact, a word such as bounds or range or confines often serves as a more appropriate equivalent for parameter than the marginal connotations of perimeter:

But a true novel is an extended piece of fiction: Length is clearly one of its parameters.
Anthony Burgess, The New York Times Book Review, 5 Feb. 1984

Shields will then subsume that request in the overall City operating budget that he will recommend to the City Council in mid-March, and the Council will make its final decisions on the parameters of the budget, including any tax increases or cuts, by the end of April.
Nicholas F. Benton, The Falls Church News Press, 6 Jan. 2016

Examples of parameter in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Remember that the u parameter depends on both the type of material and the energy of the gamma rays. Rhett Allain, Wired, 25 June 2021 In January, Google released a 1-trillion-parameter language model. Khari Johnson, Wired, 7 June 2021 Providing a sample output with a parameter set A versus B, in lieu of detailing the logic developed for each algorithm, could achieve the goal of transparency yet protect IP. Shiran Weitzman, Forbes, 2 June 2021 But perhaps the best parameter that can be used to guide people’s actions is the organisation’s clearly articulated strategy. London Business School, Forbes, 12 Mar. 2021 Indians are worried about their finances, as per one economic parameter, at least. Prathamesh Mulye, Quartz, 9 May 2021 That’s because the Dolphins have shed some old-school parameters to gauging players the way Grier talked. Bill Parcells, a mentor to Grier, followed strict height and weight parameter for players right to his final stop with the Dolphins. Dave Hyde, sun-sentinel.com, 21 Apr. 2021 This will result in reducing the training time for 1 trillion parameter neural network models from one month to just three days. Jim Mcgregor, Forbes, 12 Apr. 2021 Left: forecast significant tornado parameter which is topped off. Jeff Berardelli, CBS News, 24 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'parameter.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of parameter

1833, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for parameter

New Latin, from para- + Greek metron measure — more at measure

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Time Traveler for parameter

Time Traveler

The first known use of parameter was in 1833

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Dictionary Entries Near parameter

parameron

parameter

parameterize

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Statistics for parameter

Last Updated

14 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Parameter.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/parameter. Accessed 3 Aug. 2021.

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More Definitions for parameter

parameter

noun

English Language Learners Definition of parameter

: a rule or limit that controls what something is or how something should be done

More from Merriam-Webster on parameter

Nglish: Translation of parameter for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of parameter for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about parameter

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