Printable Version
Pronunciation: si-sê-fee-yên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. (Capitalized) Relating to Sisyphus, king of Corinth. 2. Extremely difficult to the point of futility.

Notes: The major issue associated with this word is whether it should be capitalized. There is no question of capitalization when referring to the actual king of Corinth. However, we feel that such a use is so rare as to leave open the door to spelling today's Good Word with a lower case "s". This word is used far more often as a common adjective, despite the opinion of my spellchecker. It should parallel quisling and boycott, so the spelling we prefer is much more consistent. The noun to this adjective is sisyphism.

In Play: This word works well in describing the current situation in Washington: "President Obama faces what has become a sysiphean task of getting his programs through Congress." However, the scale need not be so heroic: "It took a sisyphean effort on the part of Maud Lynn Dresser to get Natalie Cladd to come to her party."

Word History: Today's Good Word is based on Sisyphus, Greek Sisyphos, a name dissolved in the mists of time. Sisyphos was the harsh king of Corinth, who so offended Zeus that he was condemned in Hades to roll a stone perpetually uphill. The stone was so heavy that when Sisyphos reached the top of the hill, the stone would push him back to the bottom. Nonetheless, he was condemned for all eternity to repeat the process. (Our thanks are due Trent Palelei for undertaking the wholly unsisyphean task of suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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