At an in-house writers’ circle Thursday, one colleague brought up “sea change,” a phrase that seems overused these days. We wondered where it came from and what it truly means. I thought of it as a complete turnaround, a 180-degree shift in the course of a ship. But that’s not quite right.
A “sea change” is defined as a profound change or a transformation in the very nature of something. After a “sea change” the thing is fundamentally different.
Evan Morris in “The Word Detective,” along with other sources, says the term comes from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
Shakespeare meant a transformation brought about by the sea. He wrote these lines:
But doth suffer a sea-changeinto something rich and strange.
Besides fundamental change, a sea change also occurs over time. We could say the role of women in the western world has undergone a sea change. The change is profound and it happened over many years. A sea change is not like a wave swelling and crashing on the shore.
This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.