sea change


archaic : a change brought about by the sea
: a marked change : transformation
a sea change in public policy

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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.

Examples of sea change in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web But the most striking explanation may be a societal sea change: People emerged from the pandemic with less tolerance for interacting with strangers. Kim Severson, New York Times, 31 Oct. 2023 CEOs bite back There has been a clear sea change in the debate about where people work. Ryan Hogg, Fortune, 28 Oct. 2023 Lewis has a long history of deftly chronicling moments of social and economic sea change, from Liar’s Poker to Moneyball to The Big Short. Andrew R. Chow, TIME, 9 Oct. 2023 Even as the civic contract in Israel implodes, Netanyahu is dreaming of the crown jewel of regional politics: a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which would be a sea change not only for the two countries but for many of their neighbors as well. Natan Sachs, Foreign Affairs, 28 July 2023 After years of implicitly accepting territorial control over Gaza by these terrorists, a sea change is now happening as U.S. leaders from both sides of the aisle and European heads of state now broadly agree that Israel must neutralize Hamas once and for all. TIME, 15 Oct. 2023 Ian Shaw inflicts that sea change on himself, staring out from his father’s familiar face, speaking in his father’s familiar voice, becoming not his father but an uncanny, full-fathom-five changeling copy. Helen Shaw, The New Yorker, 11 Aug. 2023 But recent policies suggest a sea change that appears to be aimed at deterring some groups of future visitors, who for years have been regarded as enjoying a leg up over native Portuguese workers. Ryan Hogg, Fortune, 3 Oct. 2023 While the new process may represent a sea change in getting these people help, the scope of the program is limited. Michael Smolens, San Diego Union-Tribune, 24 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sea change.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1612, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of sea change was in 1612


Dictionary Entries Near sea change

Cite this Entry

“Sea change.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

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