Tag Archives: statistics

Parameters and Perimeters

Here’s what my computer dictionary says about PARAMETER:

parameter |pəˈramitər|noun technical

• A numerical or other measurable factor forming one of a set that defines a system or sets the conditions of its operation: the transmission will not let you downshift unless your speed is within the lower gear’s parameters. [I have no idea what this means.   JB]

• Mathematics—a quantity whose value is selected for the particular circumstances and in relation to which other variable quantities may be expressed. [I have no idea what this means, either.  JB]

• Statistics—a numerical characteristic of a population, as distinct from a statistic of a sample. [Ditto. JB]

It then says that the word is often used to mean  “limit” or “boundary.”  Now even though I don’t understand the mathematical or statistical meanings (I got freaked out by numbers when I was in first grade), it annoys me to see people describe the “parameters of a problem.” I’m guessing this happens because of the similarity to the word “perimeter.”  Why not just say the “scope, size or limitations” of the problem? I know why not: because people think “parameter” makes them sound important.  It’s jargon.

English: parameters

English: parameters (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Filed under All things having to do with the English language