Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

I THINK we have had quite enough of Mr Livingstone for the time being. I shall only add a semantic consideration - that the Standard newspaper in London announced in 112-point type that he was going to run. I thought that that was what Messrs Bush and Gore did, and that English candidates stood. I admit that it all seems very long-running.

Meanwhile Mr Sam Whitbread of Biggleswade asks if I can explain the difference between assiduous and sedulous. I don't know that I can, though both words have an interesting history.

Sedulous is not connected with sedate or other words to do with sedentary matters. It comes from se (a Latin prefix signifying 'without') and dolo, 'guile' in Latin, hence, as the adverb sedulo, 'honestly', whence, as the OED puts it helpfully, 'diligently, assiduously'. So it seems that sedulously means exactly the same as assiduously.

Synonyms are seldom matching all round. Milton wrote: 'Your sedulities in the Reception of our Agent were so cordial and so egregious', and he was meaning to be polite. Nowadays egregious has pejorative connotations. I do not think anyone would seriously thank you for your sedulity (or sedulousness, the alternative noun form) today.

Assiduous does have the etymological connection with sitting, the Latin assidere meaning 'to sit by'. …

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