Over the past week there has been a great uptick in the number of people complaining about something being “once in a lifetime”. This has confused me as I thought I understood what that phrase meant.
The root of the issue is that during the run up to #indyref, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond described the referendum as
once in a lifetime/generation. Their upset is that this means it should only happen once in a lifetime/generation.
I have always understood the meaning to be:
A once-in-a-lifetime experience or opportunity is very special because you will probably only have it once:
A tour of Australia is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
(of a chance or experience) unlikely to occur more than once in a person’s life.
‘being part of the Commonwealth Games has been a once in a lifetime experience’
These sources both explain it as something likely to happen once in your lifetime. This article about Haleys Comet quotes an astronomer saying that seeing it is a once in a lifetime event.
No doubt the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party will be campaigning for the comet not to return should some of their membership have been born before 1986 and still be alive in 2061. Which, given the average age of their membership is highly likely to be most of them. Or the majority. Or the largest grouping. All numerical descriptions they also have problems with.