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I'm looking for a word or phrase for:
Something that is not only the perfect/archetypal/quintessential example of a concept, but also unequivocally validates the existence of the concept via its very existence.

Ex: Phineas Gage is [___] of medical miracles.

I could achieve this in two separate sentences ("Phineas Gage is the quintessential example of a medical miracle" and "Phineas Gage is unequivocal proof of the existence of medical miracles"), but I feel like there is a way authors communicate both via just one phrase.

I understand that these statements are redundant in the sense that saying "A is an example of B" is automatically proof of B, but I want to communicate the connotation more explicitly.

I think I'm close with the phrasing "ultimate testament to" but I would appreciate other suggestions.

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  • Emblematic covers the first, but not the second.
    – Xanne
    Jan 6, 2023 at 8:29
  • I understand that these statements are redundant in the sense that saying "A is an example of B" is automatically proof of B, But it isn't... "Smaug, in the book, "The Hobbit" is an example of a dragon."... yet dragons do not exist, and thus nothing is proven.
    – Greybeard
    Jan 6, 2023 at 17:29
  • In semantics, archetype (for an ancient one) or prototype (at any age) are the usual terms indicating provenance of anything, imaginary or existent. Jan 6, 2023 at 20:03
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    @Greybeard But it's proof in the fictional context of the book.
    – Barmar
    Jan 7, 2023 at 16:01
  • That Gage survived the accident at all is the miracle. The medical treatment might have been noteworthy, but I don't think that was the miracle. I wonder if you can provide a different example sentence — perhaps one with a non-human subject (as you indicated below). Jan 7, 2023 at 19:14

12 Answers 12

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Perhaps the word you are looking for is epitome defined according to Merriam-Webster as

a typical or ideal example : EMBODIMENT the British monarchy itself is the epitome of tradition —Richard Joseph

Merriam-Webster further states

Epitome Has Greek Roots

Epitome first appeared in print in the early 16th century, when it was used to mean "summary." If someone asks you to summarize a long paper, you effectively cut it up, mentioning only the most important ideas, and the etymology of epitome reflects this process: it comes from Greek epitemnein, meaning "to cut short." Your summary probably also presents all the key points of the original work, which may explain why epitome eventually came to be used for any person or object that is a clear or good example of an abstraction, as in "the epitome of grace" or "the epitome of health."

Collins dictionary says:

If you say that a person or thing is the epitome of something, you are emphasizing that they are the best possible example of a particular type of person or thing. [formal, emphasis]

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  • 2
    Thanks for this. I felt that epitome conveys the first intended meaning excellently, but does not communicate the second one overtly (besides just implying it, in the sense that saying A is an example of B implies that B exists). Jan 6, 2023 at 16:58
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exemplar

Phineas Gage is an exemplar of medical miracles.

exemplary

Phineas Gage is exemplary of medical miracles.

Both of these sentences indicate that Gage is an example. Furthermore, the word exemplar/exemplary bears connotations of being a particularly excellent example.

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  • "is a exemplary"?
    – TonyK
    Jan 7, 2023 at 20:30
  • oops! Fixed, thank you @TonyK
    – Brian B
    Jan 9, 2023 at 0:57
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Since you're open to a phrase, how about "the defining example"?

As in, this example is what defines this whole class of things.

So using your example:

Phineas Gage is the defining example of medical miracles.

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  • In biology, this is called the type for a species, genus, family etc. No matter how taxonomy changes in future withothers included in or excluded from that species or whatever, that specimen will remain.
    – Henry
    Jan 6, 2023 at 15:32
  • Thanks for this. It does get at both meanings. I thought about it though and the issue is that this phrase is better suited to saying that Phineas Gage is a template that fulfills all the criteria of a medical miracle (ex: "P.G. is the defining example of a medical miracle: He experienced severe injury, was initially dismissed by doctors, and later explained away via unfounded hypotheses masquerading as scientific knowledge.). This is basically what Henry is saying, and it is slightly different than my intention. Jan 6, 2023 at 17:03
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living proof

living proof [phrase]: [usually 'verb-link phrase', often 'phrase that'_, 'phrase of noun']

If you say that someone is living proof of something, you mean that their actions or personal qualities show that a particular fact is true or that a particular quality exists.

  • He is living proof that some players just get better with age.

[Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner's Dictionary]

living proof

If someone is living proof of a particular fact, they are a good example of how true it is....

  • I will remember them as living proof that you can have too much of a good thing.

[Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English]

Though usually applied to persons (He / she / you ... is / are living proof ...), the usage is broadened to human institutions:

  • The stock exchange is living proof of that fact.

[Cambridge Dictionary; Hansard]

  • It is living proof that public services can be both efficient and popular.

[Hansard: National Health Service {50th Anniversary}]

Admittedly, there were zero hits in a Google search for "It is living proof" + "existence of dinosaurs"!

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    Thank you, this absolutely satisfies my second intended meaning, and gets close to communicating the first. The main downside is that this would be awkward to use for non-human objects, though I'd certainly still do it if needed. Jan 6, 2023 at 16:53
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I would go for irrefutable evidence, especially if you want to use it for non-human objects, as you assert in a comment.

Note that evidence can also mean sign, or as AHD says:

Something indicative; an indication or set of indications:

  • saw no evidence of grief on the mourner's face.
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I doubt there is a word which covers both the aspects of the described situation. That being said, if X is a quintessential example of Y, doesn't it follow naturally that X "unequivocally validates the existence of" Y?

This idiom seems to fit: a textbook case of (something)

A clear and characteristic instance or example of something.

Your honor, this is a textbook case of a conflict of interest. Every aspect of the deal points to that conclusion!

a textbook case of (something)

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  • Yes, it does follow naturally. But I want to communicate the connotation more explicitly if I can. Thanks for this suggestion, it is the closest to capturing both intended meanings. The only downside is that "a textbook case" always to me implies that it is in a class of similarly high-quality examples, whereas I want to communicate that it is peerless, above all others. Perhaps I can say "the textbook case" but I'm not sure that still gets it across. Jan 6, 2023 at 16:57
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I would suggest considering manifestation. Even though the word carries a connotation of 'demonstrating' something, I think it fits the bill. For example, a sentence like Education is the manifestation of perfection that is already in man purports to show the existence of such a quality.

Here's one definition of the word from the Cambridge dictionary

manifestation: A sign of something existing or happening:

She claimed that the rise in unemployment was just a further manifestation of the government's incompetence.

And here is a definition of manifest:

manifest: to make evident or certain by showing or displaying

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How about absolute proof? Or, using absolute’s synonym, perfect proof (both of which words you’ve employed in your question)?

Phineas Gage is absolute proof of medical miracles.
Phineas Gage is perfect proof of medical miracles.

absolute adjective
1 a : free from imperfection : PERFECT

perfect adjective
1 c : corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept
3 d : ABSOLUTE, UNEQUIVOCAL

proof noun
3 : something that induces certainty or establishes validity

Source: Merriam-Webster Online

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There is an idiom that originates from Latin, “quod erat demonstrandum“. It is often expressed with the abbreviate, “Q.E.D.”.

The phrase quod erat demonstrandum is a translation into Latin from the Greek ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι (hoper edei deixai; abbreviated as ΟΕΔ). Translating from the Latin phrase into English yields "what was to be demonstrated". However, translating the Greek phrase ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι can produce a slightly different meaning. In particular, since the verb "δείκνυμι" also means to show or to prove, a different translation from the Greek phrase would read "The very thing it was required to have shown." Source: Wikipedia

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There is an idiom the originates from Latin, “A priori and a posteriori”, that also discusses this concept of being both example of something that is conceived in two different aspects of knowledge.

A posteriori, is a phrase which implies something understood from experience. It’s literal translation is "from the later", which is to explain that it is knowledge acquired from experience with the outside world. The knowledge is gained after experience.

A priori, is the knowledge or thought that precedes experience (before).

A priori knowledge is independent from current experience (e.g., as part of a new study). Examples include mathematics,[i] tautologies, and deduction from pure reason.”Source: Wikipedia

These are things that are pre-conceived to the event or experience. It incapsulates the product of creativity, and applying empirical knowledge to alternative scenarios that may be theoretical or simply not yet experienced.

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A commonly used word is "linchpin". The proof of a proposition is embodied in it (because if it falls the proposition falls) and it embodies the proposition itself (by being a fundamental tenet of the proposition). This satisfies both "quintessential example" and "irrefutable proof".

  • one that serves to hold together parts or elements that exist or function as a unit

From Merriam-Webster

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The phrase "proof positive of" seems close. It means that something demonstrates the existence of something else in a particularly striking and definitive way.

Edit: I was asked to provide citations. Here's Merriam-Webster:

proof positive (noun): something which definitely shows that something else is true or correct

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  • Thank you for this. Proof positive of is perfect for my second intended meaning, and it also does get very close to communicating my first intended meaning though it doesn't feel as strong to me as a word like "ultimate" or "exemplary". I'll think about it further before accepting. Jan 6, 2023 at 17:05

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