EXEMPLAR: “a person or thing serving as a typical example or excellent model.” — New Oxford American Dictionary
News flash: I am a “word nazi.” This from several of my dear friends, some professional wordsmiths. It would be gauche to defend myself in these pages, even less genteel to rudely cast them into the abyss of usage-scoffers (the marketing majors, the journalism interns, the TV news producers) while dancing a self-righteous minuet on their execrable memos. So I shall refrain. Now on to exemplar.
Offended Writer-Type Friend: Hey, Otto. You’re going to tell everyone that exemplar is not the same as example, aren’t you?
Otto: Why yes, Offended Writer-Type Friend, I was. They are not the same.
OWTF: Oh yeah? Then why is the word “example” used in the definition? Explain that, Mr. High and Mighty.
Otto: Wha? Are you serious? If the word “example” is in the definition, then exemplar clearly means something different or more specific than example. In this case, an exemplar is a model to be held-up and emulated, or else one that is especially typical — an epitome.
OWTF: And how is that different from example? I’m an exemplar to writers everywhere. I’m an example to writers everywhere. See? Same thing.
Otto: But wait. What are you an example of? Maybe you’re an example of clumsy word choice or of how not to choose an agent. Example is quality-neutral. A criminal can be made an example of, but he is not an exemplar to other citizens.
OWTF: So by you, it’s incorrect to write: “One exemplar of a subcompact car is the Toyota Corolla.”
Otto: Correct, unless you are holding up the Corolla as everything a subcompact car represents, the epitome of subcompacts. It is also incorrect to modify exemplar with “best,” as the exemplar is by definition the best example.
OWTF: See? You just said an exemplar is the best example. It’s too confusing. You see why no one listens to you? I’m just going to keep using exemplar to mean “example.” It sounds more pretentious and helps me get chicks at parties. This is just another exemplar of your word-nazi-isticness.
[LINE DISCONNECTS. OTTO is left staring dumbly at the phone, wondering why he’s receiving a dial tone on his 4G cell phone ]