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

Unwisely, though, Congress failed to set any parameters on this authority, and Trump is using it for manifestly non-security reasons. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "Paul Ryan Unaware Constitution Lets Congress Override Presidential Veto," 12 July 2018 As recently as late April, regulators had broadly agreed on the parameters of a Volcker 2.0 proposal but were still negotiating details. Dave Michaels, WSJ, "Volcker Rule 2.0 Draft Coming Soon," 15 May 2018 For the study, scientists followed 119 healthy young men aged 18-35 for 14 weeks and assessed their diets and multiple fertility parameters, such as sperm count, sperm DNA fragmentation and blood samples. Fiza Pirani, ajc, "Eating nuts boosts sperm count and improves male fertility, study suggests," 5 July 2018 This is problematic because while some parameters, such as R* — the rate of new star formation per year — are relatively well-known, others remain hugely uncertain. Liv Boeree, Vox, "Why haven’t we found aliens yet?," 3 July 2018 This might make the new plan slightly more expensive in the short run, but still well within budgetary parameters, and still better than deficit-neutral. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "Conservatives Plan to Take One Last Shot at Obamacare Repeal Before Midterms," 30 Apr. 2018 Crow said that each week the students test the following water quality parameters: pH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. James Ewinger, cleveland.com, "Perry High School students are raising trout (photos, video)," 14 Apr. 2018 Those two parameters are key to estimating the rate of expansion. Jeremy C. Fox, BostonGlobe.com, "Harvard, MIT scientists propose new method to measure universe’s expansion," 11 July 2018 The s is a parameter that depends on the roughness of the ball's surface. Rhett Allain, WIRED, "Let's Use Physics to Model a Curving Soccer Ball," 24 June 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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Last Updated

29 Aug 2018

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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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occurring twice a year or every two years

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