[ sis-uh-fee-uhn ]
/ ˌsɪs əˈfi ən /
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of or relating to Sisyphus.
endless and unavailing, as labor or a task.


Sisyphean: Visual Word of the Day

A Sisyphean task is like fighting an uphill battle .

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Origin of Sisyphean

First recorded in 1625–35; from Greek Sīsýphe(ios), Sī́syph(ios) + -eios adjective suffix; see origin at Sisyphus, -an
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does Sisyphean mean?

Sisyphean describes a task as seemingly endless and futile—you keep doing it but it never gets done.

The word comes from the name of Sisyphus, a character in Greek mythology who was punished by being forced to continuously roll a boulder up a steep hill. Every time he was just about to get it to the top, the boulder would roll back down, and he’d have to start all over again.

Because it’s based on a name, Sisyphean is often capitalized, but not always. It is especially used in the phrase Sisyphean task.

Example: With a family of six, laundry is a Sisyphean task—it seems there is always another load to wash.

Where does Sisyphean come from?

The first records of Sisyphean come from the 1600s. The word uses the suffix -an to make Sisyphus’s name into an adjective. This is done with real-life figures (as in Shakespearean), as well as other mythological figures (as in Herculean).

In classical mythology, Sisyphus was the king of Corinth whose dishonesty got him in trouble with Zeus, ruler of the gods. Zeus punished him in a place called Tartarus (below the underworld Hades) with the now-famous task of pushing a boulder up a steep hill for all eternity. Every time he gets close to the top, it slips from his grasp and rolls back down. Oof.

In real life, we’ve all had to do a task that felt endless and futile, which is why Sisyphean is such a useful word. It can be used to describe any task that you always have to do but never seems to go away—like opening an inbox full of work emails every morning despite having cleared them out the day before. The phrases Sisyphean task and labor of Sisyphus refer to such chores.

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What are some other forms related to Sisyphean?

What are some words that share a root or word element with Sisyphean

What are some words that often get used in discussing Sisyphean?

How is Sisyphean used in real life?

Sisyphean is one of the many references to mythology that live on in our language today. It’s perhaps most commonly used in the phrase Sisyphean task.



Try using Sisyphean!

Is Sisyphean used correctly in the following sentence?

Taking care of the lawn in the summer is positively Sisyphean—it seems like it grows back the day after I mow it!

How to use Sisyphean in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for Sisyphean

/ (ˌsɪsɪˈfiːən) /

relating to Sisyphus
actually or seemingly endless and futile
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012