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 pluralthe 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 parametric (audio) , ˌpa-​rə-​ \ adjective
parametrically \ ˌper-​ə-​ˈme-​tri-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce parametrically (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 Imagine the center of the box to be the true value of X, Y and Z, and the tight-fitting box to be the range of our best guesses regarding each parameter by itself. Ben Klemens, Scientific American, "The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of Social Science Modeling," 7 July 2020 The Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix has looked at rescaling the venue with social distancing parameters in place and a seating arrangement that would drastically reduce the theater's capacity. Ed Masley, azcentral, "How concerts may look and feel a little different when they return in metro Phoenix," 28 May 2020 One kit, called InterpretML, helps data scientists determine why a machine learning model is drawing certain conclusions and which parameters are driving the prediction. Dina Bass, Bloomberg.com, "Microsoft Unveils Cloud Tools Tailored for Health Care Systems," 24 May 2020 But the church postponed that after local authorities raised questions and is now in talks about parameters for holding future services. Colleen Barry, oregonlive, "European leaders are blunt: A coronavirus vaccine won’t come soon enough," 17 May 2020 The agencies will use federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to create statewide parameters for operating in three different COVID-19 risk levels — low, medium or high risk. Emily Goodykoontz, Anchorage Daily News, "No one knows exactly what class will be like this fall. But no matter what, Anchorage schools will be different.," 17 May 2020 Instead, the crew chief adjusts parameters between runs using past data. Paul Stenquist, New York Times, "A (Barely) Controlled Explosion, and 330 M.P.H. Before You Can Blink," 17 May 2020 The cases have in common overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease with blood parameters consistent with severe COVID-19 in children. Fox News, "First cases of possible coronavirus-linked inflammatory condition in children reported in Mississippi, Oregon," 15 May 2020 The review’s parameters aren’t yet settled, but Lagarde and some of her colleagues have already expressed their own wishes. Paul Gordon, Bloomberg.com, "Lagarde Prepares to Modernize ECB With a Plan for the 2020s," 13 May 2020

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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Statistics for parameter

Last Updated

13 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Parameter.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/parameter. Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for parameter

parameter

noun
How to pronounce parameter (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of parameter

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on parameter

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with parameter

Spanish Central: Translation of 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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