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Carved in stone, set in stone and written in stone

  • Carved in stone, set in stone and written in stone are three idioms that are interchangeable in meaning. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. An idiom can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will define the phrases carved in stone, set in stone and written in stone, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.


     

    Carved in stone, set in stone and written in stone describe something that can not be changed, something permanent and immutable, something that is absolute. As with most idioms, the phrases carved in stone, set in stone and written in stone have their origin in a literal meaning. Ancient writing was often inscribed in temples and on tablets and other monumental stones. While some ancient manuscripts written on papyrus and animal skins have been found, most of our knowledge of very ancient languages and ancient writing systems comes from the discovery of characters carved into stone monuments. An inscription that has been etched into stone is difficult, if not impossible, to change. Many stone archaeological treasures engraved with writings have been deciphered, thanks in large part to the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone is a granite slab that was discovered in 1799, with a message incised on it in Ancient Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphic script, and Demotic script. While all texts that have been carved in stone are difficult if not impossible to change, the idioms carved in stone, set in stone and written in stone most probably come from two items. The first, and earliest, is the Code of Hammurabi, a Mesopotamian system of laws enacted by the Babylonian king in the 1700s B.C. These laws were carved in stone and were considered unchangeable. A basalt stele or column containing this law code of the ancient world, written in cuneiform, was discovered in 1901, and is currently in the Louvre in Paris. The second item that inspired the idioms carved in stone, set in stone and written in stone is the Ten Commandments. According to the book of Exodus, God wrote ten laws on a set of stone tablets for Moses to bring to the people. Again, these laws were considered unchangeable. Today, stone carving is mostly used in grave markers and tombs, public buildings such as libraries and churches or memorials such as statues and other monuments. The idioms carved in stone, set in stone and written in stone are often expressed in the negative, to emphasize that something is flexible or subject to change.

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    Examples

    The numbers in Italy’s budget document announced on Thursday are not written in stone, an official of Italy’s ruling League party said on Friday. (Reuters)

    He also said that because it’s a public job and the range — while not set in stone — was posted, “your negotiating hand is somewhat diminished.” (The Peoria Journal Star)

    It also shouldn’t be rigidly carved in stone but should be adjusted wisely, in selected circumstances, with strong neighborhood input. (The North Platte Telegraph)


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