sea change

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for March 7, 2020 is:

sea change • SEE-CHAYNJ  • noun

1 archaic : a change brought about by the sea

2 : a marked change : transformation


“Something was operating to make these marginal views more acceptable, something of which I had no inkling…. Something that it would not be an exaggeration to call a sea change in the whole culture, a transvaluation of values—for which there are many names.” — Susan Sontag, Where the Stress Falls, 2001

“It’s a scenario that’s getting more common for traditional retailers as they find themselves under pressure from a sea change in where and how people are shopping. Retailers like Barneys and RadioShack have found themselves on the brink twice—going through a bankruptcy filing once, emerging, and then heading back to court, again.” — Lauren Thomas,, 3 Feb. 2020

Did you know?

In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a sea change is a change brought about by the sea, as illustrated by the words of the sprite Ariel to Ferdinand, said to make the prince believe that his father has perished in a shipwreck: “Full fathom five thy father lies…; / Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / into something rich and strange.” This meaning of sea change is the original one, but it’s now archaic. Long after sea change had gained its figurative meaning—that of any marked or permanent transformation—writers nonetheless continued to allude to Shakespeare’s literal one; Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, and P.G. Wodehouse all used the term as an object of the verb suffer, but now a sea change is just as likely to be undergone or experienced.

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