Saturday, March 29, 2008

Parameter versus Perimeter

In the book I'm reading, the author uses the following phrases: “created a parameter around” and “just within the parameter”. It particularly jarred me because the two phrases were within five pages of each other and I'd never seen the word used this way.

Naturally, I immediately set out to research it. I assumed that the author had meant “perimeter”, but I was willing to keep an open mind. I found that one acceptable definition of parameter was, indeed, limits, boundaries, or guidelines.

The sense of the word, however, does not fit the usage. People use parameter in mathematics and statistics to describe a type of variable. When you describe the limits of a physical space rather than a numerical or abstract set, use perimeter.

This author also chose to describe a building—the Allied Bank Plaza in Houston, Texas—as “a stylized trapezoid with rounded ends.” Once again, the hard-to-picture imagery distracted me from the story.

I don't know that you could describe that clearly enough in passing to let your reader picture it and as a part of the scenery. Perhaps he should have skipped the image altogether, but it would certainly have been more clear to describe it as a glass tower with one rounded side. I do know that it is not a trapezoid.

This message has been brought to you by the Thesaurus Anti-Abuse Brigade. Use your words, people, but be careful.




hi xmas greetings to all of you - matty



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