Sea change (idiom)

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Sea change or sea-change is an English idiomatic expression which denotes a substantial change in perspective, especially one which affects a group or society at large, on a particular issue. It is similar in usage and meaning to a paradigm shift, and may be viewed as a change to a society or community's zeitgeist, with regard to a specific issue. The phrase evolved from an older and more literal usage when the term referred to an actual "change wrought by the sea",[1] a definition that remains in limited usage.


The term originally appears in William Shakespeare's The Tempest in a song sung by a supernatural spirit, Ariel, to Ferdinand, a prince of Naples, after Ferdinand's father's apparent death by drowning:

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.

The term sea change is therefore often used to mean a metamorphosis or alteration.[2][3] For example, a literary character may transform over time into a better person after undergoing various trials or tragedies (e.g. "There is a sea change in Scrooge's personality towards the end of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.") As with the term Potemkin village, sea change has also been used in business culture. In the United States, it is often used as a corporate or institutional buzzword. In this context, it need not refer to a substantial or significant transformation.[4]


Further reading[edit]

  • Safire, William (February 13, 1994). "ON LANGUAGE; Downsize That Special Sea Change". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  • Rich and Strange: Gender, History, Modernism. pp. 3- (preview page 4 not shown in preview)
  • The Absent Shakespeare. pp. 131–132.
  • Data Protection: Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance. p. xx.
  • Complexity, Management and the Dynamics of Change: Challenges for Practice. p. 78.
  • The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups. p. 509.
  • Shakespeare Survey, Volume 24. p. 106.