Set in Stone: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
June 9, 2023

The idiom "set in stone" describes something that is fixed, unchangeable, or permanent. It's often associated with decisions, rules, or plans that are considered final and unalterable.

In short:

"Set in stone" means that something is decided or fixed and cannot be changed.

What Does "Set in Stone" Mean?

The phrase emphasizes the rigidity and permanence of a certain element, often a rule, decision, or plan. It evokes imagery of engravings on stone monuments, which are intended to last indefinitely.

Let's delve into its core meanings and related expressions:

  • It signifies something unchangeable or irrevocable.
  • It is often used in the context of decisions, plans, or rules.
  • It conveys a sense of finality and decisiveness.

Where Does "Set in Stone" Come From?

The phrase "set in stone" has its origins in ancient times when important laws, treaties, and religious texts were literally inscribed on stone or clay tablets. This was done not only for durability but also to signify the permanent and unchangeable nature of the text.

One of the most famous examples of this is the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian law code dating back to around 1754 BC, which was inscribed on a large stone stele. Similarly, the Ten Commandments in the Bible were said to be written on stone tablets.

Historical Example

"She realized in a living tableau the imagination which the minutely enough to guarantee its perfect accuracy, but in the Princess Marie of Orleans had set in stone; and that was nearly sort of inspection which we thought sufficient."

- The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 1859

10 Examples of "Set in Stone" in Sentences

Here are some examples of using the idiom in sentences:

  • The rules of the game were set in stone; no one could argue with them.
  • Until next time, let's keep our plans flexible, as nothing is set in stone.
  • The terms of the contract are set in stone once both parties sign it.
  • As an aside, my thoughts on the matter are already set in stone.
  • Truly a gentleman and a scholar, his reputation for kindness and generosity is set in stone.
  • The wedding date is set in stone, and invitations have already been sent out.
  • Once the law is passed and set in stone, it will be hard to change it.
  • The judge's decision was set in stone, leaving no room for appeal.
  • I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the decision is final and set in stone, with no room for negotiation.
  • Thanks for the invite! The plan is now set in stone, and I'm excited to join the gathering.

Examples of "Set in Stone" in Pop Culture

The phrase "set in stone" often appears in media related to politics, business, and literature, often to emphasize the unchangeability of a situation or decision.

Let's look at some examples:

  • "Set in Stone" is a book set in 1938, following Jane Townsend as she embarks on a journey to the Loire Valley to procure stone samples for her father's carving work, driven by the desire to assist him in his artistic endeavors despite his injury.
  • The documentary "Set in Stone" is about the restoration of a war memorial in Whanganui, New Zealand. The memorial was built in 1925 to commemorate the Māori soldiers who fought in World War I.
  • "Cedarburg: A History Set in Stone" by Ryan Gierach, published in 2003, explores the rich history of Cedarburg, focusing on its remarkable transformation from wilderness to a thriving community.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Set in Stone"

There are several alternative expressions that convey a similar meaning to "set in stone."

Some of these include:

  • Fixed
  • Immutable
  • Irrevocable
  • Finalized
  • Unalterable
  • Permanent
  • Unchanging
  • Hard and fast
  • Carved in stone
  • Written in stone
  • Cast in stone

You can use these alternatives interchangeably depending on the context and the degree of permanence involved.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Set in Stone":

  • What does "set in stone" mean?

"Set in stone" refers to something that is unchangeable or fixed, often a decision, rule, or plan.

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

You can use "set in stone" to emphasize the rigidity or permanence of something. For example, "The rules of the contest are set in stone."

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

The phrase likely originates from ancient times when important laws or proclamations were literally inscribed on stone monuments.

  • Can the phrase be used metaphorically?

Yes, it is commonly used metaphorically to refer to something that is unchangeable or fixed.

  • Does the phrase always imply permanence?

While it usually implies permanence, it can also be used to convey a strong sense of commitment or decision.

  • Can I use the phrase in a professional context?

Yes, it is often used in professional contexts to indicate that a decision, plan, or rule is final.

  • Is "set in stone" a common idiom?

Yes, it is a common idiom in English-speaking countries.

  • Can the phrase be used to describe people's attitudes or beliefs?

Yes, it can be used to describe a person's unchangeable or deeply held beliefs or attitudes.

  • What's the difference between "set in stone" and "up in the air"?

"Set in stone" means that something is fixed or unchangeable, while "up in the air" means that something is still undecided or uncertain.

  • Can one use the phrase humorously?

Yes, for instance, one could say, "My weekend plans are not set in stone - unless my mom calls."

Final Thoughts About "Set in Stone"

 The idiom "set in stone" indicates something that is fixed or unchangeable. It is used to convey the rigidity or permanence of a situation, decision, or rule, suggesting something that cannot be altered.

Here's a quick recap:

  • It refers to something that cannot be changed or fixed.
  • Its origin is likely traced back to ancient civilizations where laws or proclamations were literally inscribed on stone.
  • It is appropriate in a variety of contexts and situations, reflecting its versatility.

Just because something is "set in stone" doesn't mean it's always the end of the story. It simply means change won't come easy.

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