Carved In Stone: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 13, 2023

The idiom "carved in stone" refers to something that is fixed and unchangeable, usually a rule, plan, or condition. It paints a vivid picture of an old-fashioned chisel being used to etch words into a slab of rock—a laborious process that, once completed, cannot easily be reversed.

In short:

"Carved in stone" signifies something that is immutable, firm, and unalterable.

What Does "Carved in Stone" Mean?

"Carved in stone" is a widely recognized English idiom referring to a decision, rule, or plan that is set and cannot be altered. The phrase speaks to the permanence and irrevocability of something engraved in stone, symbolically expressing the idea of unchangeability.

Let's break down its key implications and usage:

  • "Carved in stone" means that something is unchangeable or not subject to variation.
  • This phrase often refers to rules, agreements, or decisions that are final and not open to renegotiation.
  • Though commonly used in legal or official contexts, it can also be used in everyday conversation to describe any unalterable situation or condition.

Where Does "Carved in Stone" Come From?

The idiom "carved in stone" is believed to have originated from the biblical story of Moses, who received the Ten Commandments from God on two stone tablets. Given this context, the phrase has become synonymous with something that is permanent and unchangeable.

Historical Example

"Moses works miracles because God's will is not limited to the law carved in stone. "

- Reality and The Theatre, Naïm Kattan, 1972

10 Examples of "Carved in Stone" in Sentences

Here are some examples of the idiom in use:

  • Trying to rein in her emotions, she felt as if her fate was carved in stone.
  • The company rules are not carved in stone and often allow for some flexibility.
  • On a side note, their family rules were not just rules. They were carved in stone.
  • With the plans carved in stone, they could soon reap the benefits of their hard work.
  • To each his own, but I don’t think that rule is carved in stone. Maybe we can change it.
  • Despite being carved in stone, some ancient laws are now considered outdated.
  • The old traditions might seem to be carved in stone, but they can change over time.
  • I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the contract is carved in stone. We can’t renegotiate the terms.
  • In the town where I was born and raised, our traditions are carved in stone and respected by all.
  • The Constitution may be carved in stone but can be amended if necessary.

Examples of "Carved in Stone" in Pop Culture

The phrase "carved in stone" is not uncommon in pop culture, usually signifying something that is firm, fixed, and cannot be changed.

Let's examine some instances:

  • "Carved in Stone: The Flintstones Phenomenon" is a 2004 documentary that explores the remarkable success of the animated television series "The Flintstones" (1960-1966).
  • "Carved in Stone," the second solo album by Vince Neil, the lead singer of Mötley Crüe, came out in 1995 through Warner Bros. Records.
  • "Carved in Stone" is a song by The Subdudes from their 1996 album "Primitive Streak."
  • "Is there a law carved in stone that states that your ex must behave in any particular way for you?" - is a quote from the book "Custody Chaos, Personal Peace" by Jeffrey P. Wittman.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Carved in Stone"

A variety of other phrases carry a similar meaning to "carved in stone."

Here are a few:

  • Set in stone
  • Fixed
  • Immutable
  • Unalterable
  • Irrevocable
  • Permanent
  • Unchangeable
  • Unvarying
  • Inflexible
  • Unmodifiable

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Carved in Stone":

  • What does "carved in stone" mean?

"Carved in stone" refers to something that is fixed, unchangeable, and not open to alteration.

  • How can I use "carved in stone" in a sentence?

You can use "carved in stone" to describe a rule, decision, or condition that cannot be changed. For example, "Our plan is carved in stone; we cannot modify it now."

  • Where does the idiom "carved in stone" come from?

The phrase "carved in stone" is believed to have originated from the biblical story of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, symbolizing the immutability of divine law.

  • Does "carved in stone" mean something is permanent?

Yes, "carved in stone" typically implies something is permanent and not open to alteration or reconsideration.

  • Is "carved in stone" used only in formal settings?

Not necessarily. While "carved in stone" is often used in formal contexts like legal or official decisions, it can also be used informally to describe any situation, belief, or plan that is considered unchangeable.

  • Can "carved in stone" refer to personal beliefs or values?

Yes, the phrase can be used to describe personal beliefs or values that a person is not willing to change or compromise.

  • Can a decision "carved in stone" ever be changed?

Typically, something "carved in stone" is considered unchangeable. However, in reality, few things are truly immutable, so the phrase often implies a strong resistance to change rather than absolute impossibility.

  • Does "carved in stone" always carry a negative connotation?

Not always. While the phrase could be perceived negatively if it refers to inflexibility or stubbornness, it could also be positive when it signifies constancy, reliability, or steadfastness, such as a "promise carved in stone."

  • Can "carved in stone" refer to historical or traditional rules?

Yes, "carved in stone" can refer to longstanding historical, cultural, or traditional rules or practices that are typically resistant to change.

  • Is "carved in stone" a universally understood concept?

While the exact phrase "carved in stone" may not exist in every language, the concept of something being unchangeable or permanent is likely to be a universally understood idea.

Final Thoughts About "Carved in Stone"

The phrase "carved in stone" serves to remind us of the unchangeable nature of certain aspects of life, decisions, and beliefs. Whether it's laws, traditions, or personal values, recognizing what is "carved in stone" can help us navigate our responses and understand our positions better.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Carved in stone" highlights the immutability of certain elements in life.
  • You can use it in both formal and informal contexts to denote permanency or irrevocability.
  • While it often signifies inflexibility, it can also be positive when it symbolizes constancy and steadfastness.

The phrase serves as a metaphorical reflection of the rigid and unyielding nature of the stone itself, suggesting that some things, once established, cannot be easily changed or erased.

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