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Sisyphean: Visual Word of the Day
A Sisyphean task is like fighting an uphill battle .
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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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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.
Being ambitious while also having clinical anxiety is a neverending,sisyphean ordeal of the mind and the body. I never get a break from thinking about all the things i want to do while simultaneously freaking out and succumbing to chronic perfectionism.
— salts and schmaltz (@missroohafza) April 9, 2020
I'm exhausted. I feel like I worked a full shift with a big pickup. Today was a literal Sisyphean task. There were 40 emails when I started working, and I didn't get that number under 37 until about 6pm. When I called it quits it was still above 20.
— owifig (@KapitanObvious) April 9, 2020
As we continue with the Sisyphean task of unpacking & trying to organize the new house, I had a realization: to have a neat house & to eliminate clutter, I have to decide that my clean house is more important than the feelings of people who give me things.
— Anxious in the house, in the house anxious (@Katerintree) January 20, 2020
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
This makes “fuels management” a maintenance problem, a Sisyphean chore.
Unless we have the compassion to see housing as a human right and the will pay for it, for millions of children with no agency at all, and millions of mothers who are doing their Sisyphean damndest, the worst is soon to come.America Could Soon Face a Wave of Single Moms Being Evicted. A Simple Solution Exists That Could Help Them|Lauren Sandler|May 28, 2021|Time
Managing this complexity manually would be a Sisyphean struggle.The power of value 4.0 for industrial internet of things|Jason Sparapani|December 22, 2020|MIT Technology Review
Perhaps even more problematic is that legal enforcement of the policy itself is a Sisyphean task; there is no way it can be done.The University Of New Orleans’ Cigarette Ban Is Total BS|Chloé Valdary|October 21, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Trolling for notes every few months can be a Sisyphean task.Antonis Samaras: New Greek Prime Minister and Predecessor Share College Ties|Jim Warren|June 19, 2012|DAILY BEAST
Christian Dior designer Bill Gaytten had a near Sisyphean task in creating a spring 2012 ready-to-wear collection.
Graduating into the Great Recession only added to the sense of Sisyphean striving.
Chrysler nearly escaped its Sisyphean fate, with a hastily arranged “merger of equals” a decade ago, to Daimler-Benz.
One evening I found him in his chambers engaged upon his Sisyphean labour of “tidying up.”
I was pleased, therefore, to be freed from the Sisyphean labors of the editorial office.Recollections of a Varied Life|George Cary Eggleston
Is the Sisyphean stone of Home Rule, so laboriously rolled uphill, to again roll down, crushing in its fall the faithful rollers?Ireland as It Is|Robert John Buckley (AKA R.J.B.)
Without some such respite he could never have faced and carried through the almost Sisyphean task which awaited him at daylight.His Unknown Wife|Louis Tracy
It became clear that the zoologists had been attempting a task utterly Sisyphean.A History of Science, Volume 5(of 5)|Henry Smith Williams