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Benchmark is a word that began with a literal meaning, but has come to also have a figurative meaning. We will examine both the literal and figurative meanings of the word benchmark, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The literal meaning of the word benchmark is a cut made by a surveyor in a building or wall in order to measure elevation. The word benchmark was originally rendered as two words, bench mark, to describe a mark that was cut into a building or wall horizontally, so that the worker could lay a leveling rod on this horizontal bench in order to make measurements accurately. Benchmark may still be used to mean a surveyor’s mark used to make an accurate measurement of elevation. However, most often the word benchmark is used figuratively to mean a standard by which all other things may be compared. A benchmark is usually of a high standard or is an example of a high performance, to generate a point of reference for improvement in the workforce or in the operating system. Benchmarks are a way to measure one’s effectiveness, whether one adheres to best practices, to assess one’s productivity or reliability, or to evaluate whether a system or enterprise is achieving excellence. Strategic monitoring in most industries affords insight into ways to seek optimization of the employees’ capabilities, or to see improvements in compliance. Sometimes a consultant may be called in for evaluation of a business or organization. He may establish new benchmarks and implement an operational framework with strategies to analyze and optimize work product. Statistics and tracking may improve efficiency. A benchmark test may be used to assess the performance of a person, company or institution, but is especially useful when measuring the performance of software. Benchmark is also used as a verb to mean to compare something with a standard. Related words are benchmarks, benchmarked, benchmarking. The word benchmark was first used in the surveying sense in the 1830s, and in the figurative sense in the 1880s.


To them, playing the Crimson Tide is a personal benchmark of sustained success. (Sports Illustrated)

Cricket West Indies (CWI) has introduced a new benchmark for testing the stamina and endurance of players on the West Indies men’s team. (The Jamaica Observer)

The benchmark tests the responsiveness of a storage array, using a calculated score of SPC-1 IOPS, not literal IOPS, and its cost ($/KIOPS) along with other measures. (The Register)

The global interest-rate benchmark Libor could be going away after a manipulation scandal rocked the big banks. (Barron’s)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says the cost of running the new National Children’s Hospital needs to be benchmarked against similar hospitals around the world. (The Evening Echo)