parameter

noun
pa·​ram·​e·​ter | \ pə-ˈra-mə-tər \

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 , ˌpa-​rə-​ \ adjective
parametrically \ ˌper-​ə-​ˈme-​tri-​k(ə-​)lē , 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

The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the President’s authority to limit migration within parameters established by Congress, including a government policy during the 1990s of interdicting Haitians at sea. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "The Chief Justice and the President," 27 Dec. 2018 As the term has gained wider resonance, however, a few distinct parameters have emerged that more clearly align hopepunk with specific aesthetic and literary trends, and paint it as a counter to others. Aja Romano, Vox, "In the era of Trump and apocalyptic change, Hopepunk is a storytelling template for #resistance — and hanging onto your humanity at all costs.," 27 Dec. 2018 According to Oldenburg’s parameters, Starbucks would largely qualify. Andrew Zaleski, Curbed, "Can Apple stores be public spaces?," 3 Oct. 2018 Apps and Accessories Some devices (like, for instance, LG's G7 and the OnePlus 6) include a comprehensive camera app that gives you manual control of the shutter speed and other parameters. Wired Staff, WIRED, "How to Take Awesome Photos of Fireworks," 3 July 2018 Employers have wide latitude to set the parameters of their loan help programs. Alexia Elejalde-ruiz, chicagotribune.com, "As crushing student debt keeps young people from saving, employers are stepping up to ease the squeeze," 26 June 2018 Jerry personally was a bit more involved in that contract, partially in an effort to set up parameters to protect Dez against himself, and from blowing a deal that included $45 million guaranteed. Mac Engel, star-telegram, "In looking for his next team, Dez has one option," 16 Apr. 2018 Tensions can run high at meetings of the Rules Committee, one of the original committees of the House and the forum where the majority party gets to exercise its muscle in setting the parameters of floor debate. Carl Hulse, New York Times, "Louise Slaughter Set House Rules, and Played by Her Own," 19 Mar. 2018 The agreement … merely set the parameters of a debate and did not specify the substance of any potential legislation, leaving the fate of the immigration issue just as unclear as before. James Hohmann, Washington Post, "The Daily 202: Seven takeaways from the failed Democratic government shutdown," 23 Jan. 2018

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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Statistics for parameter

Last Updated

17 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for parameter

The first known use of parameter was in 1833

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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

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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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