Forever is such a long time. I would be careful about stating that something will be a certain way forever. Yet a current cliché gets a lot of use, as writers pronounce that something or somebody has changed forever, implying that up until a great turning point, things were a certain way, but from now on, until the end of time, they will be different.
Sometimes it’s a tragedy in a person’s life.
“Just five weeks after Arianna’s birth, the Terhune’s awoke to find their daughter lifeless in bed,” according to an Oct. 14, 2014, story1 in Nevada’s Carson Valley Times.
“‘Our world caved in from underneath us,’ Amber said ‘Our lives changed forever in an instant.’”
A similar example: “On February 10 Ciara’s young life changed forever when she was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” according to a story2 in the Fermanagh Herald of Northern Ireland.
Both statements imply that the people involved will live forever. OK. I believe that too. And I can accept that even in eternity they will be different, possibly better, people because of their experiences.
What about Scotland—will there always be a Scotland? “Scotland’s Finance Minister John Swinney MSP says: ‘Tomorrow is the start of a period of which Scotland as a country has changed forever,’” according to a British Broadcasting Corporation report3 on Sep. 19, 2014. A thousand years from now, or a million, will Scotland be different because of the 2014 vote to remain within the United Kingdom? Maybe.
Are all these writers who discuss eternity able to see the future? Or have they created confusion by using one more fuzzy cliché, which is what Strunk and White, in The Elements of Style, called “the foreseeable future.”
In 1983, recalling halcyon days of chummy commuters on the railroad, writer David Yuckman concluded an article with “We are left only with a memory of what commuting was once like—and it will probably never be like that again”10—much better than writing that commuting has changed forever.
Editors, let’s weed out “changed forever” unless it truly refers to a permanent, eternal difference. Or else this might be the day that editing changed forever.
1. “Our Lives Changed Forever in an Instant,” Gardnerville, Nev., Carson Valley Times, Oct. 14, 2014.
2. “Ciara So Happy to Hear News That She Is Now in Remission,” Fermanagh Herald, Northern Ireland.
3. “Scottish Referendum Results: Scotland ‘Changed Forever’ Says John Swinney,” BBC, Sep. 19, 2014.
4. “How American Football Changed Forever in 1936,” All Funked Up sports blog, Sep. 24, 2014.
5. “Women’s Surfing Just Changed Forever,” Surfing Life, Sep. 29, 2014.
6. “Watch Out for Falling Oil Prices,” Barron’s, Oct. 15, 2014.
7. John DeSanto, “845Life: Making a Living on a ‘Rock Pile,’” Middletown, N.Y., Times Herald-Record, Oct. 12, 2014.
8. Matt Bai, “How Gary Hart’s Downfall Forever Changed American Politics,” New York Times Magazine, Sep. 18, 2014.
9. Craig Holt, “Public Hearing on Changing Deer-Farm Management Is Tuesday in Raleigh,” North Carolina Sportsman, Oct. 14, 2014.
10. David Yuckman, “Last Train from West Trenton,” New Jersey Monthly, February 1983.