Same old same old: talking about things that don’t change

Art Wolfe/Mint Images RF/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Whilst writing about proverbs (see previous posts), I came across the phrase ‘A leopard doesn’t change its spots’, which means that a bad person never changes their character. That set me thinking about other ways of talking about people or things that don’t change.

Unchanging is a general, slightly formal adjective to describe things that never change. We use the word invariable  for things that do not change and cannot be changed. It is quite often used in technical or scientific contexts. The adverb invariably is more common in general language as an alternative to saying ‘always’:

The message from their campaign was clear and unchanging.

We determined the coordinates of the invariable points.

Invariably, they were late.

If we describe rules, laws, or facts as immutable, we mean that they never change and cannot be changed. This is a formal word, but it is often used in a slightly joky or sarcastic way. More informally, we talk about hard-and-fast rules. Both are more often used in negative than positive sentences:

It’s not an immutable law of nature that men should be paid more than women.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about which herbs to use.

People or things that are consistent always behave or happen in the same way. The adverb consistently is common too:

We try to be consistent in the way we discipline our children.

This school has consistently been in the top 10 acting schools in the country.

If something (especially a decision or plan) is set in stone, it is difficult or impossible to change. This phrase is often used in negative sentences:

The design for the new town square isn’t set in stone yet, so do give us any ideas you have.

Something that is irreversible cannot be changed back to the way it was before. We often use this adjective to describe damage or decisions:

We are doing irreversible damage to the environment.

We use the adjectives entrenched and unshakeable to describe attitudes, ideas and beliefs that are difficult or impossible to change. Ingrained is similar, and also commonly describes habits:

Their views on immigration are deeply entrenched.

Her unshakeable conviction that education can change lives has shaped her career.

Over the course of our lives, habits become ingrained.

We use the words steady or constant to describe a level, speed, etc. that doesn’t change:

They were walking at a steady pace.

Store the food at a constant temperature.

I’ll finish with the phrase from the title. Same old same old is an informal way of conveying a feeling of boredom or frustration when things don’t change:

I thought his speech would be radical, but it was just the same old same old.

I hope you find these words useful, and do comment if you can think of other nice ways to describe things that don’t change!

20 thoughts on “Same old same old: talking about things that don’t change

  1. Cristina

    Would you say that “consistent” and ”constant” are synonyms?
    If yes, can they be used in the same context and with the same register?

    1. Liz Walter

      In the sense of ‘staying the same’, I’d say the register is similar. There is a slight difference in contexts. ‘Consistent’ is used more for the way people behave, or the way in which things happen, whereas ‘constant’ is more likely to be applied to levels of things like speed. I think it would usually be fine to replace constant (in this sense only – not in the sense of ‘happening all the time’ with consistent, but not always the other way round.

  2. Khalid Anis

    Respectable Madam,
    Liz Walter,
    Good Morning,
    First of all I will congratulate you on writing very good article on the
    Post of ” Same Old Same Old: Talking About Thing That Don’t Change “.
    I highly appreciate your Post of ” Same Old Same Old: Talking About Things That Don’t Change.
    You very nicely explained around 16 Things that don’t change.
    The Leopard Doesn’t Change It’s Spots which means that Bad Peson never change their character , It is a fact & universal truth.
    The word Unchanging, Invariable & Invariably (Always) are also good words for the usage of not change.
    The words Immutable (Rules, Laws & Facts Never Change) good word for not change.
    Hard-and- Fast Proverb, Consistent, Consistently, Set In Stone, Irreversible, Entrenched, Unshakable, Ingrained, Steady, Constant; these are all good word & Proverbs to remember to express no change & It’s usage in the Language will make our Language more beautiful.
    I am writing some of them from my thoughts, If they are correct then it’s means that I have understood your Post on ” Same Old Same Old: Talking About Things That Don’t Change “.
    (1) Date of Birth (2) Heat “Conductivity”of metals. (3) Periodicity of elements. (4) Elements Atomic Number & It’s mass number (5) ” Density ” of elements. …..etc.
    Thanks for support in learning Language.
    High Regards To You.
    Yours Sincerely
    Khalid Anis.

    1. Rasmus

      Hi Khalid. I just want to point out something in your comment: the way people show politeness is different across cultures. In the English speaking world, it is not customary to use such politeness markers as you have used – “Respectable Madam” and “High Regards” – they sound too formal. Instead, you could write “Dear Ms Walter”.

      One more thing, you do not need to repeat the article’s name, she already knows the name of the article. Instead of repeating, you can just say “the article”. I wish you all the best on your journey of learning English.

      Best regards,

  3. Andy Renshaw

    How about ‘Plus ça change…’ (a shortening of the popular French saying ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, that literally translates as ‘the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing’)

  4. Mujahed

    Really Great Job, Liz. Thanks.

    Whilst the words “immutable” and “hard-and-fast” are both used more often in negative than positive sentences, as you explain, the adjective “unalterable,” (adverb: ‘unalterably ‘) can be used both in negative and positive sentences to mean almost the same: ‘not possible to change.’

    Example: It seems like an unalterable fact that good luck never knocks twice.

  5. Sameh Shnouda

    Hi It was useful to read your article so I would like to ask you some more articles like this that explain more difference in similar words. Are there more? Where? Thank you.

  6. Liz Walter

    Lots of my posts deal with language in one particular area, often with synonyms or near-synonyms. You can get them by clicking on my name at the top of the article.

Leave a Reply