Sunday, October 09, 2011


Gary from Burt Lake commented on a buzzword of our day—paradigm—and the many meanings that it seems to bear. It came from a Greek word that meant an example, pattern, or model.

Originally, in English, it referred to a typical example of something. The Oxford English Dictionary includes a 1996 quote from Carl Hiaasen illustrating this: “I don't really care if he liked to play find-the-periscope with prostitutes, but I do care that he passed himself off to voters as a paradigm of Christian rectitude.”

Later, for English speakers studying classical Latin and Greek, it took on a grammatical meaning: a table showing the inflected forms of a particular verb, noun, or adjective, the exemplar standing as a representative of its class. For instance, the model for verbs ending in –are was amare, to love. The chart or paradigm for the present indicative active was


1. amo........amamus

2. amas......amatis

3. amat......amant

That same pattern would be applied to all verbs ending in –are.

In linguistics, a paradigm is a set of units which are linguistically substitutable in a given context, especially a syntactic one. For instance the verb form -will listen- may be preceded by I, you, he, she, it, we, or they. In rhetoric, a paradigm is a figure of speech in which a comparison is made by resemblance.

In the sciences, a paradigm is a conceptual model that attempts to explain and buttress the theories and practices of a particular era. More generally, it may be described as a world view. When new discoveries or understandings occur and a model must be tweaked, the general phrase used is paradigm shift.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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