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Garner’s Modern English Usage

Bryan A. Garner

example; exemplar; ✳exemplum; exemplification. 

Example, of course, is the general term. Exemplar = an ideal or typical example. E.g.: “The artist [Carl von Marr], regarded as his era's foremost exemplar of German academic realism, was born to German immigrants in Milwaukee in 1858 and died in Munich in 1936.” James Auer, “West Bend Gallery Buys Massive Oil,” Milwaukee J. Sentinel, 30 Nov. 1995, at 8. The Latin ✳exemplum is usually a needless variant of example—e.g.:

  • “From Caesar's murder on, however, he is an exemplum [read example] both in compelling minor detail and in his sure awareness of the historic scale of the events he is helping to shape.” Alistair Macaulay, “Julius Caesar—Theatre,” Fin. Times, 6 July 1995, at 23.

  • “Most of the town, and especially Byron, stand in awe of Maars, who is an exemplum [read example] of the community's most cherished values—generosity, tolerance, self-reliance and unflagging determination.” David W. Madden, “A Farm Boy Returns as a Man,” S.F. Chron., 13 Aug. 1995, Sunday Rev. §, at 10.

  • “The author finds his exemplum [read example] in an episode revealing the personal sensitivity, to injured blacks, of one of his children.” Benjamin DeMott, “Put on a Happy Face: Masking the Differences Between Blacks and Whites,” Harper's Mag., Sept. 1995, at 31.

In the specialized literary sense “a moralizing tale or parable; an illustrative story” (OED), exemplum is justifiably used—e.g.: “Here is an exemplum vérité that the Franciscan nuns at Nativity grade school in Washington told my brothers when they were preparing to take their First Communion: ‘There was a wicked little boy in the grip of the Devil. When he went to Communion, he did not swallow the Host, but deliberately concealed it in the corner of his mouth. He went to his hideout with his gang, put the Host on the ground and hammered a nail through it. The Host spurted blood. The boys ran back and confessed . . . .’” Maureen Dowd, “‘The Moral of the Story Is . . . ,’” N.Y. Times, 24 Dec. 1995, § 4, at 9.

Exemplification = (1) the act or process of serving as an example <by way of exemplification>; (2) a case in point; an illustration <that exemplification is rather far-fetched>; or (3) (in law) an attested copy of a document with an official seal. In sense 2, the word is usually just a lofty synonym of example—e.g.: “A single episode may be noted as a fair exemplification [read example] of this.” Herbert S. Gorman, “Hopeless in Chandrapore,” N.Y. Times, 6 Oct. 1996, § 7, at 38.

Language-Change Index

exemplification misused for example: Stage 1