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 McConnell's plan would follow the parameters of former President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial: an initial agreement to first hear the case and a later vote on whether to call witnesses. NBC News, "Trump and McConnell met at White House to discuss Senate impeachment trial," 9 Jan. 2020 Final regulations that clarify and define the parameters of the law haven’t been released yet, but California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is expected to issue them sometime in the next six months. Gilad Edelman, Wired, "California’s Privacy Law Goes Into Effect Today. Now What?," 1 Jan. 2020 The two Senate leaders met later Thursday to discuss the parameters of a trial, and came to no agreement. Arkansas Online, "Impeachment charges set on simmer," 20 Dec. 2019 Moreover, the legacy of Eurocentrism has also continued to determine the parameters of knowledge production and decided that the literary mode of documenting and passing down knowledge is the only legitimate form. Lavinya Stennett, Quartz Africa, "West Africa’s oral histories tell us a more complete story than traditional post-colonial narratives," 16 Dec. 2019 Though the liberal government Johnson heads is vastly preferable to Corbynista rule, the parameters of British economics just took a large step to the left. Kyle Smith, National Review, "Congrats Boris, R.I.P Fiscal Conservatism," 13 Dec. 2019 But what would happen to American democracy if, one day in the early 21st century, a technology appeared that—over the course of a decade—changed several fundamental parameters of social and political life? Jonathan Haidt, The Atlantic, "Why It Feels Like Everything Is Going Haywire," 12 Nov. 2019 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday the House will vote on a resolution to formalize -- and establish the parameters -- of the Trump impeachment inquiry. Fox News, "National Security Council official was 'worried' about Trump Ukraine call; Informant key to al-Baghdadi’s fall," 29 Oct. 2019 Lawyers are still figuring out the parameters of the discussions, but Patrick Shavloske, the house’s chief executive officer, said mediation soon will recommence. Lois K. Solomon, sun-sentinel.com, "Bonnet House and state trust to work on truce," 10 Oct. 2019

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

17 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Parameter.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/parameters. Accessed 26 January 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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