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I am used to referring to 'parametra' instead of 'parameters', however, trying to justify it this morning, I was stumped. Lots of articles say that 'parameters' is the only correct plural; following the original Greek, 'parametroi' should be the correct word usage.

However, a quick search on Ngram found that 'parametroi' has no references at all, and that 'parametra' used to be used - fairly commonly in the '20's and '50's (and another peak in the '80's), but isn't that common any more. 'Parameters' has always been used more than the alternatives.

Is 'parametra' correct, and if so, what is the derivation that leads to it? If it is not correct, what is the proper technical plural of 'parameter', and also, what is the source for the uncommon usage of 'parametra'?

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    There are no usage examples for Parametra in Ngram
    – user66974
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 11:05
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    This is really an exercise in graph-reading. Look at how many zeroes there are on the vertical scale of that Ngram. If you add "parameters"to the list, you will see that is has so dominated "parametera" that it makes the latter insignificant.
    – Spencer
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 12:32
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    I have never, in a half-century of technical activities, read or heard "parametera" (until now).
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 12:53
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    And your Ngram search only finds the word once in an English document (and that appears to be a quote of sorts).
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 12:59
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    "Parametra" seems to be used in English in some cases in gynaecological contexts (e.g. Practical Gynaecological Ultrasound), but after more research, it seems to me that this is a typo for "parametria."
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 16:16

3 Answers 3

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A Google Books search for parametra yields 27 confirmed matches, of which only a handful are in English. Most of the results seem to be in Russian and other Slavic languages. Of the arguably English matches for parametra, one is the (Linnean system) genus name of a crinoid (Parametra granulata), two are references to a series of parameters known as the "Mössbauer parametra," one is to a software tool called ParaMetra. Google Books evidence of any use in English of parametra as a simple plural form of parameter is exceedingly scant.

A Google Books search for parametroi turns up several matches in Greek but nothing in English.

The standard plural form of parameter in English is (and as far as I can tell, always has been) parameters.

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As for the latter part of your question (what is the source for the uncommon usage of 'parametra') - if indeed there is such a usage - my wild guess would be that it might have sounded "academic" or perhaps "proper Greek" to some ears, as in the case of criteria, but the truth is, as you point out yourself, that the correct plural form would be parametroi, parametros (parameter, that is) being a noun of the feminine gender, although metron, which - as has already been said - is one of the two words comprising the word parametros, is a noun of the neutral gender, and as such, becomes metra in the plural form (just like criterion becomes criteria, which btw answers the comment about surviving Greek plurals in English),

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  • Do you know why the gender changes between "metro(n)" and "parametros"? That seems odd.
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 21:52
  • @suməlic Same applies to words such as diametros (diameter), perimetros (perimeter) and more, as opposed to barometro (pronounced varometro, meaning barometer), chronometro (chronometer), where the compound word has held on to the neutral gender (the plural form would hence be barometra, chronometra etc.)
    – m.a.a.
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 9:27
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    @suməlic ...Off hand, I can see two differences between these two groups of compound words: a) In the first group, there's actually just a preposition serving as a prefix (para-, dia-, peri- etc.), whilst in the second group there are indeed two different stems (baros, meaning weight, or chronos, meaning time etc.) b) The words of the first group connote a somewhat abstract feature of a given item, whilst the words of the second group refer to actual instruments.
    – m.a.a.
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 9:27
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Parameter/Parameters are the correct terms, "Parametra" is not used in English.

  • A parameter is a limit. In mathematics a parameter is a constant in an equation, but parameter isn’t just for math anymore: now any system can have parameters that define its operation. You can set parameters for your class debate.

  • Parameter comes from a combination of the Greek word para-, meaning “beside,” and metron, meaning “measure.” The natural world sets certain parameters, like gravity and time. In court, the law defines the parameters of legal behavior. Parameter and perimeter are similar, but a perimeter is the physical distance around an object, while a parameter can contain or define something either physically or abstractly: before you marry, prepare for the parameters of monogamy.

Vocabulary.com

Usage examples:

  • That makes it the heaviest observed elementary particle yet discovered, but within the parameters set by the Standard Model. (Scientific America)

  • "As hard as journalism is, at least you have parameters," she said. (New York Times)

  • Within those parameters, Ms. Gray played with color, creating an upbeat show reflecting London's mad, mad fashion world. (New York Times)

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  • Is there a correct Greek or Latin plural that can be used in English though?
    – gktscrk
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 13:18
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    @gktscrk - not that I know of, but I don't think so. Parameter is an old and long established term : 1650s in geometry, from Modern Latin parameter (1630s), from Greek para- "beside, subsidiary" + metron "measure" etymonline.com/index.php?term=parameter
    – user66974
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 13:36
  • According to Google's Ngram, "lemmas" and "lemmata" battled it out till about 1910, when "lemmas" began to dominate.
    – Airymouse
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 14:10
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    @Airymouse: I think it's relevant though that "lemma" retains the non-nativized Greek suffix "ma," while "parameter" has been anglicized in the singular by lopping off the suffix -on and syllabifying the "r." Consider the word "problem": no one pluralizes it as "problemata."
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 16:05
  • I got it. No problemo.
    – Airymouse
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 15:51

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