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Oprah played a big role in my understanding of what it meant to be female and to really step into your own power. I wouldn’t even call her a role model; she was literally a reference point. You have the dictionary, you have the Bible, you have Oprah.

https://www.colorlines.com/articles/lupita-nyongo-named-glamours-woman-year

What is the difference between "role model" and "reference point" here? They seem similar to me.

role model: a person who someone admires and whose behaviour they try to copy (the Cambridge Dictionary)

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/role-model

reference point: something that is used to judge or understand something else (Merriam Webster)

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reference%20point

  • I don't understand. You give dictionary definitions of both. What is it about those definitions that fails to distinguish them? – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Aug 14 at 5:30
  • The defintion of "role model" is clear. However, the definition of "reference point" seemed to be elusive. – luxury20041985 Aug 14 at 9:49
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Yes "role model" and "reference point" are similar, but as your dictionary definitions show they are different.

Calling someone a role model is to state they are someone who should be emulated (copy their behaviour) and that people should aspire (hope) to be like.

A reference point is an absolute. You can see from the dictionary definition it is the standard by which something else is judgeed. (@Brad gave a civil engineering example for this in his answer).

The sentence in your quote that shows us the intended meaning is:

I wouldn’t even call her a role model; she was literally a reference point.

So the writer is saying that Oprah goes well beyond what we would normally understand reagrding a role model, to the point of being an absolute, the standard by which others can be judged.

This is then compounded in the closing statement using a triplet to re-inforce the point being communicated:

You have the dictionary, you have the Bible, you have Oprah.

The use of this device is normally to show escalation, so each term has more power and impact than the last.

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difference between “role model” and “reference point”?

The difference is a role model is someone to look up to and possibly to follow their example. A reference point is literally a point of reference. This is an engineering term (especially Civil Engineering) where some location is given as a reference. For example a level of X meters above sea level. It is therefore a known fact, a point of reference. As apposed to an Assumption of someones character (role model). Who knows? The football player you use as your role model may be a wife beater, closet alcoholic and in debt to the mob.

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