Skip to main content

Change vs Mutation vs Permutation vs Vicissitude vs Alternation

Change, mutation, permutation, vicissitude, alternation are comparable especially in their concrete senses.

Change, the inclusive term, denotes not only any variation, alteration, or modification in a thing (as in its form, substance, or aspect) but also any substitution of one thing for another.

Mutation and permutation are applied to a change within a thing or in a combination of things regarded or functioning as a unit.

Mutation stresses lack of permanence or stability; it has been applied to variations or alterations that are expected only because they are inherent in the nature of things but are otherwise fortuitous or unaccountable.

More typically the term connotes suddenness and unpredictableness but seldom implies impossibility of explanation; often also it implies orderly change.

Permutation implies transposition within a group or combination of things without change in the constituent elements or parts of that group or combination. It is now used largely in reference to a change in position within a group of differentiable items (as digits, letters, colors, or sounds).

It may imply a rearrangement of constituent elements that effects a change in relations, emphasis, or significance and so gives a new form to what is substantially the same material.

Vicissitude (see also DIFFICULTY) implies a change so great as to seem a substitution for, or a reversal of, what has been. Sometimes it is applied to such changes as occur in natural succession or from one extreme to another.

More often it is applied to a sweeping and unpredictable change that overturns what has been and so has the character of a revolution or an upheaval.

This implication of reversal is now so strong that the original implication of succession in turn is disappearing.

Alternation, though logically used only of the succession of two things in turn, is also used, as vicissitude once was, of two or more things.