Monday, February 9, 2009


sedulous [SEJ-uh-lus]
adj. persevering and constant in effort or application; assiduous.

[Derives from Latin sēdulus (“painstaking”), which came from Old Latin (“without”) + dolō (“guile”)]

Eskimos allegedly have 50 or more words for snow. That makes sense -- it's what's all around them. In English, we have a plethora of words that mean hardworking or a steady effort. I wonder if that's not due to the Anglo-Saxon penchant for labor. Sedulous is joined by arduous ("requiring great exertion; laborious"), assiduous ("constant in application or effort"), determined ("resolute; staunch"), diligent ("constant in effort to accomplish something"), earnest ("serious in intention, purpose, or effort"), exigent ("requiring much effort or expense; demanding"), industrious ("working energetically and devotedly"), indefatigible ("incapable of being tired out"), laborious ("requiring much work, exertion, or perseverance"), operose ("involving much labor; industrious"), painstaking ("careful and diligent effort"), persevering ("remaining constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement"), persistent ("enduring in spite of opposition, obstacles, discouragement"), steadfast ("firm in purpose"), studious ("disposed or given to diligent study"), unremitting ("never slackening; persistent") and untiring ("not ceasing despite fatigue").

A book reviewer in The Economist used sedulous to describe the poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was the Poet Laureate of the United States (1949-50) and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry (1956):
She was sedulous, pernickety*, quietly determined; she would work on poems for years.

The sedulous Miss Bishop also won the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, two Guggenheim fellowships, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the only American ever given that honor. Here is an example of her work, One Art:
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

* Pernickety is a variation of persnickety ("excessively fussy about details").

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