“Sea change”

My whole life I’ve heard the phrase above (it’s sometimes given as “sea-change”), but never knew what it meant until I looked it up yesterday. It turns out that it simply means a big change. And, like so many other common phrases, it came from Shakespeare. Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition:

Since I just learned it, I thought maybe other people might not know of its meaning or origin, either.

That said, I don’t plan to use the phrase, as to my ears it sounds a bit pompous, and I’d rather say “big change”. I wonder if those who use it—I heard it somewhere the other day on the news—know what it means, or use it in the proper sense.

As long as I’m writing this, here, from Shakespeare Online, is a list of words invented by the man, along with the following note (go to the link to click on the individual words):

The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original. Below is a list of a few of the words Shakespeare coined, hyperlinked to the play and scene from which it comes. When the word appears in multiple plays, the link will take you to the play in which it first appears. For a more in-depth look at Shakespeare’s coined words, please click here.

Like many others, I am baffled by Shakespeare’s immense eloquence and fertility of thought and language. They seem to have come out of nowhere, but since we know very little of the man, the mystery is even deeper. What a treat it would be to have dinner with him! I know of nobody who’s a better writer in English.

129 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    YES

    What the heck is with that phrase

    Why was I also saying it to myself recently

    Thanks for looking it up – I can take it off my list!

    • Posted January 24, 2018 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Shakespeare’s use of the term “sea-change” becomes clear (and not a metaphor) by what follows it…changing “into something rich and strange”…and “those were pearls that were his eyes”. Shakespeare understood that immersion in sea water brings chemical changes and mineral deposits to everything that remains in the water for a long time. To describe a drowned person by using wonderful
      language to refer to these changes is yet another example of Shakespeare’s genius. Instead of describing the horror of death, of a decayed human body, he describes an object of beauty, embellished and decorated instead of dark and decomposed. It is truly one of the most evocative things he ever wrote, and possibly intended to comfort the survivor by using terms of beauty.

  2. GBJames
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    As for me, I’d like to see change.

  3. Joseph McClain
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I like “sea change” and use it because, to me, it evokes a need to do things differently. A literal sea change necessitates serious alteration in how a ship must be handled, etc.

    • Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      I prefer ‘paradigm shift’. If you want to sound smarter, it’s a real game changer.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Europeans in Shakespeare’s time had questionable hygiene and no knowledge of the germ theory of disease (they, ironically, thought bathing made you sick) so I wouldn’t want to have dinner with Shakespeare.

    • Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      I would have dinner with him in the here and now, which is just as realistic as supposing that I’d go back to his times and eat mutton and beer.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Just make sure he brushes his teeth and takes a shower first then. And also get an interpreter for that weird, though modern English he speaks. Also, make sure he understands we no longer do cruel things to animals for sport. The Elizabethans were really odd compared to us moderns.

        • Jake Sevins
          Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          You do realize that in _another_ 400 years people will look back at us and think we were barbarians as well, right?

          “They used to eat animal flesh! And there used to be multiple ‘races’ with people of one race hating others of a different race. And there used to be incredibly suffering, hunger, and poverty, that most people just ignored while enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the Internet.”

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

            Yes. So?

          • GBJames
            Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            More likely: “They were such barbarians! Some of them to think it was wrong to eat animal flesh! And they denied the existence of biological races!”

            Your imagined future might play out differently than you think.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

              Or, they treated cancer by cutting it out and then poisoning you with radiation and chemicals.

              • Richard Jones
                Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

                Cutting it out can give you another 25 years. Not a bad choice.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                So does the radiation and chemo, that’s why we do them even though they have horrible side-effects. But the reason for my remark is, in the future, cutting it out and subjecting patients to brutal adjuvant therapy, will hopefully be seen as unnecessary and brutal because there will be such better non-invasive and even more effective treatments.

              • Bob
                Posted January 24, 2018 at 6:14 am | Permalink

                Chemo and radiation therapy as well as hormone therapy, all of which I am currently undergoing, will add ten years to my life. I look forward to my 90th birthday.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 24, 2018 at 8:56 am | Permalink

                I stopped hormone therapy after 1.5 years instead of taking it for 5 years. I was so fatigued with it, I couldn’t work and I decided to stop taking it and risk the 7% increase in recurrence. Even if I had taken it for the full 5 years, the cancer could come back anyway. This cancer can always come back and metastasize because that’s just the kind of cancer it is.

        • Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          Poor dental hygiene is why I’d never travel to the past. It’s worse than accidentally sleeping with your grandmother and becoming your own grandfather.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

            Ha ha – and the danger of stepping on butterflies.

            • Posted January 24, 2018 at 4:29 am | Permalink

              Maybe someone did, and now you’ve got Trump.

              • Posted January 24, 2018 at 4:30 am | Permalink

                Sorry, not you, Diana, but the US.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 24, 2018 at 8:53 am | Permalink

                Ha ha well I think we all got him.

        • Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          Not to mention the fact most of them wouldn’t exactly be enlightened on the matter of Jewish people.

          Still, you could ask him about the bloke he wrote the Donets for and clear up some outstanding literary questions.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        This is a treat to watch. Maybe I got this from WEIT before. Anyway, for those who haven’t seen it, it’s recreating the accent of the place and time of Shakespeare’s plays.

        • Robert
          Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

          Truly a treat. Thanks for the tip.

        • rickflick
          Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

          I watched that treat again. Great to imagine seeing the plays this way.

        • ploubere
          Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          Very interesting. As if Shakespeare wasn’t interesting enough already, it adds a new dimension.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      Europeans in Shakespeare’s time had questionable hygiene

      Apocryphally, Elizabeth 1 claimed that she’d have a bath every month, whether she needed it or not. A paragon of regal hygiene.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I’ve used “sea change,” though very sparingly, but then I’ve a fondness for nautical language used figuratively. And if that lashes me to the spar of pomposity, so be it. 🙂

    • Jake Sevins
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Oy. Jerry needs to change the masthead of this article to “invitation for bad sailing references.”

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Your punishment is to be keel-hauled while lashed to the spar of pomposity.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      “Sea-change” makes me think of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, which gives me the willies.

      • Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        Aye, but I much prefer it to “paradigm shift”, the 80s equivalent!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          Paradigm shift sounds like there is a new crew coming in at a certain time, “Make sure to tidy up for the paradigm shift; they have a lot to do and we need to set them up for success.”

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          The wrath of Kuhn.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        Yikes!

        That brings to mind, not too long ago on Quora I came across the question “Why do people think L Ron Hubbard was a bad science fiction writer?” Some of the answers were pretty funny. Having read Battlefield Earth once, it was no mystery to me.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha! Me neither!

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    It would not sound right in Sam Cooke’s song. What would we call a change in the ocean?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      “Don’t know much about oceanography/Don’t know much about hydrology”? 🙂

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        What was that R.E.M. song – Losing My Religion. Assumes you had it to begin with.

      • Posted January 24, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Wonderful song. Especially as performed in “Witness”. Your lyrics are great.

  7. Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I learned the phrase as an adolescent studying Shakespeare. So it does not feel pompous to me, just part of the vocabulary I grew up with. I suppose it depends at what period in your life the phrase was first explained to you.

    I used the word segue (pronouncing it ‘segway’) for years before, when I was 40 or so, a friend told me the correct spelling –
    which I had assumed was ‘segway’. ‘Segue’ still irritates me, probably due to my initial annoyance at my ignorance.

    • Frank Bath
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      ‘Segue’ from Italian = follows. Found in musical scores etc.

    • Posted January 24, 2018 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      For all of us who learn words from reading them, but not looking up pronunciation. I embarrassed myself by mispronouncing “cupola” due to that.

  8. Charles Jefford
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Shakespeare would never have us
    ed that ghastly word ‘multiple.’

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    You know where “sea change” is used the most – the news. I bet when journalists are told to “make this sound more profound”, they use it.

    Of late, I’d say “disrupting” plays a similar role – “make this unknown startup sound like it’s the next big thing”

    “disrupting”

  10. Mark R.
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t this happen to “paradigm shift” as well? Where once it meant a fundamental scientific change, now it means any kind of big change…or sea-change.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Ah yes, same flavor.

      Thomas Kuhn coined “paradigm shift” in The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions.

      I used it once – on an exam, in fact, I felt very proud of myself.

      Did I mention I used it once? As in, only one time?

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        Uh oh – think I’m in error

        Page 10 Of 3rd edition introduces “paradigm”
        Page 23 he says he “appropriates “paradigm” here”

        “paradigm choice” is in the index…

        … but upon review it seems “paradigm shift” is not in Khun’s book.

        … and a quick “Look Up” says it originates in the 15th century.

        … gonna have to apologize for this. On the bright side, I’ve expunged one of those chestnuts that only embarrasses oneself.

      • Mark R.
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Aha, now I understand Ken Kucek’s “Wrath of Kuhn” comment up-thread.

        • Mark R.
          Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          Kukec…sorry for the misspelling.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

            Not the first time that’s happened, if you can believe it. 🙂

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted February 8, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        Somehow this came up today :

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift

        It says Immanuel Kant “used the phrase” in the preface to his Critique of Pure Reason (1781).

        I read the preface to the first and second editions of CoPR but cannot find the word “paradigm”. It is merely an image as compiled by Google, not plain text searchable.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted February 14, 2018 at 6:27 am | Permalink

        Uh oh – here cones another Fantasyland (Andersen, 2017) connection:

        p. 191 : discussion of Kuhn’s Revolutions, places in context, including using “paradigm shift”.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Not unlike “quantum leap”: used properly, it should suggest the smallest change possible to a given system. In most (non-scientific) contexts it seems to be intended to mean “a huge abrupt jump”.

      • gscott
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

        Totally agree about ‘quantum leap’.

        And don’t get me started about ‘epicenter’ (oops, too late!). People seem to think it means ‘the central center in the very middle of all its centralness’. It does not.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 24, 2018 at 8:39 am | Permalink

          Yeah but anything measured in planck lengths seems huge at first glance. 🙂

      • grasshopper
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

        I use “quantum leap” “properly” all the time, and to me it has always suggested an astounding change, based on the fact that an electron can be here one moment, and there the next, and at no time being found anywhere in between. Indeed, electrons are described as “jumping” from one energy level to another.
        I am sure that you will agree. It only takes a leap of faith 😉

  11. Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I am baffled by Shakespeare’s immense eloquence and fertility of thought and language. They seem to have come out of nowhere, but since we know very little of the man, the mystery is even deeper.

    We know a lot about the man. He’s just not the unschooled, semi-illiterate, avaricious small businessman from the boondocks of Stratford.

    • Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      I’ve read Bill Bryson’s excellent biography (strangely enough titled Shakespeare), and according to Bryson, we don’t know much about him:

      More than two hundred years ago, in a sentiment much repeated ever since, the historian George Steevens observed that all we know of William Shakespeare is contained within a few scanty facts: that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, produced a family there, went to London, became an actor and writer, returned to Stratford, made a will, and died. That wasn’t quite true then and it is even less so now, but it is not all that far from the truth either.

      After four hundred years of dedicated hunting, researchers have found about a hundred documents relating to William Shakespeare and his immediate family—baptismal records, title deeds, tax certificates, marriage bonds, writs of attachment, court records (many court records—it was a litigious age), and so on. That’s quite a good number as these things go, but deeds and bonds and other records are inevitably bloodless. They tell us a great deal about the business of a person’s life, but almost nothing about the emotions of it.

      In consequence there remains an enormous amount that we don’t know about William Shakespeare, much of it of a fundamental nature. We don’t know, for one thing, exactly how many plays he wrote or in what order he wrote them. We can deduce something of what he read but don’t know where he got the books or what he did with them when he had finished with them.

      Although he left nearly a million words of text, we have just fourteen words in his own hand—his name signed six times and the words “by me” on his will. Not a single note or letter or page of manuscript survives. (Some authorities believe that a section of the play Sir Thomas More, which was never performed, is in Shakespeare’s hand, but that is far from certain.) We have no written description of him penned in his own lifetime. The
      first textual portrait—“he was a handsome, well-shap’t man: very good company, and of a very readie and pleasant smooth witt”—was written sixty-four years after his death by a man, John Aubrey, who was born ten years after that death.

      • revelator60
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        Keep in mind that we don’t much about most of Shakespeare’s colleagues either, aside from the fame-hungry Ben Jonson. I’m a fan of John Ford (not to be confused with the filmmaker!) and he’s even more mysterious than Shakespeare. Even what we know about Marlowe is not reliable.

      • Posted January 24, 2018 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        There is zero evidence that William Shaksper of Stratford-Upon-Avon ever wrote a single thing.

        • Posted January 24, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          Apart from all the plays and poetry of course.

          • Posted January 25, 2018 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

            The plays and poems? Many published anonymously, the others under a nom-de-plume, “Shake-Speare” (why the hyphen?) Half the plays never seen until the First Folio — why would the merchant dealing in sacks of wool, cartloads of stone and used clothing, who sued his fellow villagers over petty sums, neglect to monetize half his plays?

            For every other contemporary playwright, multiple forms of evidence exist linking them to their works. Only Shakespeare has none. Aside from six signatures each in a different hand, there is not a single scrap of writing — no letters, no diaries, no shopping lists — connected to Shaksper of Stratford. His will lists none of the very valuable rights to any of his plays. And no books. Not one.

            • Posted January 26, 2018 at 6:59 am | Permalink

              If you can find any accredited real scholars that subscribe to your Shakespeare-mythicist theory, I’ll start taking it seriously.

              • Posted January 26, 2018 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

                That’s a bit like saying, ‘if you can find any accredited christian scholars that subscribe to your Jesus-mythicist theory, I’ll start taking it seriously.’ It also commits the fallacies of Appeal to Authority and argumentum ad populum.

                I’ll offer three links to groups that publish serious articles and studies on the authorship question. I’ll leave it for you to decide whether they have the scholarly chops.

                The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition
                https://doubtaboutwill.org

                Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship
                https://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org

                The De Very Society
                https://deveresociety.co.uk/public/

    • Posted January 24, 2018 at 5:08 am | Permalink

      Philomena has all you need to know about Shakespeare.

      • Posted January 24, 2018 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        Didn’t he die from the Bionic Plague?

  12. busterggi
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Yet did Shakespeare invent all those words & phrases?

    Afterall, he had audiences that needed to understand what he meant or not understand his works.

    Perhaps he was more compiler than originator?

    • glen1davidson
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      He almost certainly didn’t invent all that are credited to him, but I believe that there are too many apparently novel words to all just be words from dialects that aren’t recorded elsewhere. He wasn’t really a scholar of obscure dialects, or any such thing, so, while he’d pick up the occasional obscure word, he presumably wasn’t relying on known words for all of what appear to be novelties in his works.

      He could invent words so long as the meanings were relatively clear, like with “Sea-change.” He appears to elaborate somewhat as well, just in case people weren’t certain what he meant.

      Glen Davidson

    • Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Or the first writer-downer (recorder).

    • Posted January 24, 2018 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      Sometimes there was just no stopping him.

    • Posted January 24, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I was going to write something similar. We say Shakespeare invented all this language but it is probably, for the most part, only that his plays are the earliest writings to survive that have these usages in them.

      Perhaps people were saying these things all the time but just not writing them down.

      • Posted January 24, 2018 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        I’d say this is very, very likely. I’m sure he was recording things he heard.

        Now, why were his words conserved when so many were lost? Quality.

  13. glen1davidson
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I like how it’s evocative of profound changes in weather, in sea conditions.

    I think it tends to go beyond “big change,” to a kind of transformation, which seems to be how Shakespeare is using it–Sea-change into something rich and strange.

    To be sure, it’s probably more commonly used as a synonym for “big change,” which seems to me unfortunate.

    Glen DAvison

    • Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Yes, to me it connotes a change into something wholly different.

      That is small change I suppose.

  14. Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I am not convinced that he coined all those terms attributed to him, though he may have. It is surely safer to say he was the first to use them where they survive in print.

  15. Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  16. Liz
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never heard of sea change. One of the most interesting things I remember learning about Romeo and Juliet is the meaning of wherefore in “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Juliet isn’t asking where he is. She’s asking *why* he is. She’s referring to the fact that he’s from a rival/enemy family. The 1996 movie version of Romeo and Juliet is brilliant. At least that’s what I think.

    • Liz
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

      As a side note, the 1996 Romeo and Juliet movie is one of the only movies I have been able to watch without it annoying me. I auto-correct songs and movies and this movie doesn’t have as many errors.

    • Posted January 24, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Herefore I art ~~ Bugs Bunny

  17. Posted January 23, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    There was an Australian TV Drama by the name of SeaChange in the late 90s.

    The description from Wikipedia:
    “Laura Gibson (Sigrid Thornton), a high-flying city lawyer, is prompted to undergo a ‘seachange’ with her children Rupert and Miranda after her husband is arrested for fraud and is found to have had an affair with her sister. Laura becomes the magistrate for the small coastal town of Pearl Bay. With its many colourful characters…”

    • Posted January 26, 2018 at 1:49 am | Permalink

      Indeed, and the show made the phrase emblematic of moving from city life to a slower – usually coastal life in a smaller town. Those who move to non-coastal rural areas are said to be seeking a “tree change”. Both are very recognisable expressions in Australia.

  18. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I can’t help it – I just want to see if this works – shouldn’t hurt much:

    https://books.google.com/ngrams/interactive_chart?content=sea+change&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Csea%20change%3B%2Cc0

  19. Charles Jefford
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    It does not mean big change, but rather a significant change in one’s fortunes.

    • Frank Bath
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      I wonder whether it was originally a sailing term. A sea change could be threatening or otherwise in the days of sail and wooden ships

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, it is. Shakespeare used it in “The Tempest.”

  20. Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    PuffHo headline: Sea Change Coming for Evolution and Close-minded Darwinists

    Just kidding, just kidding …

  21. R.H.
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis (and obviousl A.McGrath), I’d much rather have dinner with W. Shakespeare.

  22. revelator60
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    “Sea change” is properly used to mean not just a big change but a profound transformation–Shakespeare uses it describe the metamorphosis of a dead character from a corpse to part of the ocean:

    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.

    So I don’t think it’s pretentious to use the phrase to signify a profound transformation. Unfortunately too many lazy hack journalists and philistines have been misusing the word, and it will probably undergo the same devaluation as “epic.”

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      Yes exactly — analogous to fossilization perhaps, the molecule-by-molecule replacement of one substance into a different one.

    • barn owl
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      That would be a shame. “Sea change” reminds me of the mythological seal-herdsman Proteus and the word protean, although the latter refers to mutability or volatile, repeatedly shifting changes, rather than a profound transformation.

      I have some “Shakespearean insult” magnets, from a museum/gift shop somewhere in the UK (maybe the British Library?), on a fridge in my lab. They never cease to amuse me, and a few have disappeared off the fridge (everyone likes creative insults, I guess). “Thou cream-faced loon” etc.

      • Posted January 23, 2018 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

        The insult fridge magnets are a big draw at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre down the road in Stratford-upon-Avon.

        In the nearby second-hand bookshop there is a shelf tiled, “Local Authors”. It’s all Shakespeare. Classy.

  23. Rick McNeil
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Milton’s pretty impressive, too, when it comes to eloquence, fertility of language, and phrases that have become common.

    “Silver lining”, for example, is Miltonic. It was proverbial, apparently, but I think that the OED credits Milton with its first print appearance. It’s in “Comus”:

    “Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
    Turn forth her silver lining on the night?”

    And what would 1980s professional wrestling have done without “pandaemonium”?

    Anyhow, here’s a link to an old Guardian story that marvels at Milton:

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2008/jan/28/britishidentity.johncrace

    • revelator60
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I think Milton is usually ranked just behind Shakespeare in the great English poets category. The Milton scholar Stanley Fish once remarked that one is either a Milton fan or a Shakespeare fan. However, Fish has said plenty of stupid things on many topics (including atheism)…

      • Posted January 24, 2018 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        How about Chaucer next?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 24, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

          Ugh. You’d have to know Middle English. It sounds like this but you wouldn’t have the writing to help.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Oh yes I had forgotten about pandemonium. I remember discovering it and its meaning while reading Paradise Lost all those decades ago!

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      “Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey” — the Grateful Dead

      Idioms are like cherry tomatoes: bite into one, you never know what direction it’s gonna squirt off in.

    • barn owl
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      And what would 1980s professional wrestling have done without “pandaemonium”?

      Or folding metal chairs, for that matter?

      Although those are not attributable to Shakespeare.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 23, 2018 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        80s Wrestler es and guests on Jerry Springer abused a lot of folding chairs.

  24. loren russell
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    My thought on Shakespeare’s apparently endless ability to coin neologisms is that most were borrowed on the fly. That is, he had a very good ear for language and spent a lot of time with witty people who didn’t necessarily commit their thoughts to print.

  25. Posted January 23, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t think, as others have noted, that the Bard “coined” all those words. “Dawn,” for example, dates to the 1200s. He may have been the first writer we know of who used a certain adjectival form or verbed a certain noun, but the Shakespeare online claim is quite a stretch.

    In THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT (1994), Steven Pinker points out that up to a fifth of English verbs are derived from nouns–including such ancient verbs as rain, snow, and thunder, along with more recent verbs like oil, pressure, referee, bottle, debut, audition, highlight, diagnose, critique, email, and mastermind. “In fact,” he writes, “easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that make English English.”

    • grasshopper
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Shakespeare had to invent “dawn”, coz “arose by any other name” had already been taken.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      I recall Tom Robbins mentioning in a novel (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, I think) that “Homer, who was blind and had no editor, wrote of ‘the rosy fingers of dawn.'”

      Later, Robbins opened a chapter in the book with “The rosy fingers of dawn drummed softly — like a Julliard professor sitting in at a downtown jazz club.”

  26. grasshopper
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    William Shakespeare ( Willy Wobbledagger, as we called him in school): great writer, but his works are laden with clichés.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t there an old joke about a neophyte theater-goer describing Hamlet as nothing a bunch of famous old sayings strung together with a palace-intrigue plot?

    • glen1davidson
      Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      At least they were new cliches then.

      Glen Davidson

  27. mirandaga
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    The phrase comes from “The Tempest,” in which the spirit Ariel is singing to Ferdinand about the (supposed) drowning of his father, King Alonso:

    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.

    The central issue that’s being raised here is what happens when someone dies: the specific change in question is the transformation from something alive to something not alive, which is more than just a “big change.” I.e., we wouldn’t say of someone who was alive and is now dead, “He’s changed” or even “Wow! He’s really changed.”

    What Ariel is saying is that everything about Ferdinand’s father that is subject to change (“that doth fade”) has changed into something else (bones to coral, eyes to pearls). The implication is that there is something about a living thing that doesn’t fade or change—namely, a soul or spirit. Ariel calls it a “sea-change” because the body in this case is changed by being under water, but a body decomposing in the earth would undergo a similar change, though in that case the bones might be roots and the eyes flowers.

    Clearly, the use of the phrase to mean any “big change” has lost much of its original meaning.

  28. Posted January 23, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Although I can find nothing online to support it, I doubt that Shakespeare really invented this phrase. English owes so many phrases to sailing and seamanship. After all, it was the premiere technology of the day and arguably more important to England than most other countries. My favorite is “square meal”, referring to the square wooden plates used by the sailors to hold their meals. As another commenter mentions, a change in sea conditions can trigger a wholesale change in how the ship’s sails are configured which, in turn, requires a huge amount of work by the sailors. Hence a sea change is a very big change indeed.

    • Posted January 24, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Which reminds me of rounds of bread used as plates and called “trenchers”. I suppose you could eat your plate if you were still hungry.
      Don’t know the etiquette associated with trenchers.

  29. Posted January 23, 2018 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    “…extolling this woman as a pathbreaker, a history maker…”

    When in fact she’s a joker, a smoker, a midnight toker…

    • Posted January 23, 2018 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Ach wrong thread, and off topic to begin with. My apologies. (Would have deleted of possible.)

  30. Posted January 23, 2018 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    A “sea change” is more than just a “big change”. I like the O.E.D.’s “metamorphosis”; it’s an alteration of the fundamental nature of a thing. As Shakespeare wrote, it’s a change “into something rich and strange”; it’s a change that is beautiful but unsettling, mysterious, powerful, unconscious (as water is often taken to be a symbol of the unconscious and the mysterious). It’s a lovely phrase, but overused in trivial ways.

  31. Posted January 23, 2018 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of “quantum leap”. My personal definition for it is “the smallest, most insignificant bit of progress possible”.

  32. Posted January 24, 2018 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    The Bard did indeed enrich the English language immeasurably, but we must also give some credit to William Tyndale, whose English translation of the Bible introduced a plethora of memorable phrases into the language. These were copied by the compilers of the King James Bible, and thereby become part of common speech.

    This BBC News article gives the background: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12205084

  33. Posted January 24, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    “And that’s why come Shakespeare is so awesome.” — homestarrunner.com

  34. Posted January 24, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Whether Shakespeare was Shakespeare (or Marlowe, or any of the other potential alt-Shakespeares), he wrote damned fine English whether from hearing and parroting or creating and whether created by himself or with numerous fellow playwrights. Thank goodness for what has been saved and for the limited information we do have about Shakespeare that proves the existence of someone named Shakespeare (however spelled).

  35. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Ah ha! Spotted!

    Kurt Andersen
    Fantasyland
    p.173

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted February 24, 2018 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      And again somewhere between p.210-220 I think…


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