This week’s “Word of the Week” is actually a discussion of two words that are commonly confused: paramount and tantamount.
According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, paramount is an adjective that means “superior to all others.” Similarly, Webster’s College Dictionary notes that paramount means “chief in importance or impact; supreme; preeminent; above others in rank or authority; superior.” Essentially, someone or something that is paramount is simply the best.
Tantamount is also an adjective; however, instead of denoting superiority, tantamount means “equivalent in value or meaning” (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary) or something that is “equivalent, as in value, force, effect, or signification” to something else (Webster’s College Dictionary).
Although these words have distinct meanings, they can often be confused because they sound so similar (after all, not that many words end with –mount). My tip for remembering the difference between these words is alliteration, which occurs when words begin with the same sound, as in the phrases pepperoni pizza and French fries.
Have you heard of the film production company Paramount Pictures? Both words begin with a p sound. Also, Paramount Pictures strategically uses the meaning of paramount to brand themselves as producers of films that are “superior to all others,” not films that are equal to all others. That strategic use of the meaning of paramount coupled with p alliteration should hopefully make it easy for you to remember what paramount means.
Alliteration can also help you remember the meaning of tantamount. Because it is being used to make a comparison between two things that are essentially the same, tantamount always occurs with the preposition to, which conveniently begins with a t sound as well.
Thus, if you’re ever unsure of whether you should use paramount or tantamount, just remember Paramount Pictures and tantamount to!
Let’s look at some examples of paramount and tantamount in action from recent news articles.
“Students living in Washington are lucky in that they are guaranteed an education. It is, indeed, written into the state’s constitution, which says it is the ‘paramount duty’ of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children within its borders. While other states have constitutional provisions related to education, no other state makes K-12 education its ‘paramount duty.’ A good thing for our students, but, like many good things, it comes with a cost. In the case of educating some 1 million students in more than 2,300 public schools, the price tag is staggering.” http://bit.ly/WOhnzK
“As the United States increasingly regresses toward a Gilded Age of haves and have-nots—in terms of income, education, and opportunity—taking on concentrated poverty is critical. Indeed, Richard Rothstein and Mark Santow assert in their recent paper that, until we do so, education reform efforts are all but doomed. Continuing to consign so many children and families to communities devoid of pathways out of poverty is tantamount to throwing away our greatest resource for the 21st century: human potential.” http://wapo.st/WrTdP6
“The US water shortage is turning out to be even more pressing than the General Accounting Office predicted, according to urinal maker Waterless Co. In 2003, the GAO issued a report warning that by 2013 at least 36 states could face water shortages. But by 2008 at least 36 states were already dealing with periodic if not chronic water shortages, with California, New Mexico, and Arizona at the top of the list, Waterless says. The company makes no-water urinal systems and other restroom-related products. CEO and founder Klaus Reichardt says there has been some good news but predicts that water scarcity and related water concerns will likely become paramount issues in 2013.” http://bit.ly/Ws1qkx
“The Attorney General previously brought a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Reclamation over the agency’s unilateral reclassification of 65,000 acre feet of New Mexico water for delivery to Texas. The Attorney General believes the Texas lawsuit is in retaliation for bringing the BOR legal action. ‘Critics of our legal action against the BOR have said the OA protected us from a lawsuit by Texas,’ adds AG King. ‘But to stand by and do nothing to protect New Mexico’s water under threat of litigation is tantamount to extortion and I was not about to let that happen.’” http://bit.ly/Ut8dgO
“‘Paramount during this session is [that] we need to focus on a permanent solution to school funding,’ Watson said. ‘It is irresponsible to bounce from crisis to crisis to crisis when we’re talking about educating our children, and it’s also irresponsible to act like we have time in that regard. A kid that’s in school today doesn’t have time for us to wait around, do a poor job on finding a permanent solution to school funding and wait until lawsuits are filed and then see how those work out.’” http://bit.ly/11GdC6n
“Their time in the Magdalene laundry remains a carefully guarded secret. They fear jeopardising established identities – husbands, children and grandchildren know little about this part of their past. Or they have a deep distrust that justice will be forthcoming. They have been disappointed before. For some, the risk is paralysing. And still, the women’s testimony is compelling. It rebuts government claims that they entered these institutions ‘voluntarily.’ It contradicts the religious orders’ assertion that women were free to come and go as they pleased. Some survivors describe their experience as tantamount to ‘slavery,’ living behind locked doors and barred windows. They insist, moreover, that members of An Garda Síochána routinely brought women to the laundries and/or returned women who escaped – regardless of whether the State was involved in committing them in the first place, and in the absence of any statutory basis for doing so.” http://bit.ly/WrUFRD
For more information on these words, please visit the following Web sites:
“Paramount.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 11th Ed., 2004. Print.
“Paramount.” Webster’s College Dictionary. 2nd Ed., 2001. Print.
“Tantamount.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 11th Ed., 2004. Print.
“Tantamount.” Webster’s College Dictionary. 2nd Ed., 2001. Print.