Word + Quiz: sedulous

Word + Quiz: sedulous

: marked by care and persistent effort

The word sedulous has appeared in one article on NYTimes.com in the past year, on Nov. 12 in the book review “For Lydia Davis, Language Is Character” by Brian Dillon:

… She recommends unstinting regard for language and sedulous habits of self-revision; then she throws in, like an afterthought, an extra moral dimension: “Work on your character.”

Perhaps for Davis language, or a painstaking attitude to language, is character. It’s a matter first of judgment, then of invention. In an essay on “Revising One Sentence,” she describes the fixes, cuts and inclusions required to compose this poised sentence: “She walks around the house balancing on the balls of her feet, sometimes whistling and singing, sometimes talking to herself, sometimes stopping dead in a fencing position.” (A sentence, by the way, that Davis may never even use in a story — it exists for its own sake as a notebook flourish.) In “A Note on the Word ‘Gubernatorial,’” which Davis contributed to the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, she enjoys the word’s sound, “incorporating two voiced plosives and the word ‘goober.’” More important: Knowing why “gubernatorial” conceals its “softer, silkier, cousin, ‘govern,’” means that you, fretful thesaurus user, will deploy these and other words with more lively precision from now on. Abstract words, Davis tells her students, almost always conceal a real thing, such as a herd, a seed, a rodent, a goat. “Know what that concrete thing is.”