Sept 16, 1968


JAMA. 1968;205(12):870-871. doi:10.1001/jama.1968.03140380074019

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Of the many verbal morsels that titillate the taste of the medical writer, one of the juiciest is "parameter." It has the ring of fundamental science, not just biological or medical science. It imparts an air of erudition to a paper and, quite incidentally, to the author. Furthermore, it is wholly Greek, a fact which, when he learns of it, will delight the amateur purist who, nevertheless, knowing neither Greek nor Latin, habitually and innocently uses all manner of hybrid terms derived from both.

All in all, "parameter" is quite a word. The trouble is, it does not mean at all what most writers think it means. Webster's new (1959) International Dictionary defines it thus:

"1. Astron.... 2. Cryst.....3. Math. a) An arbitrary constant characterizing by each of its particular values some particular member of a system of expressions, curves, surfaces, functions, etc. b) an independent variable through functions