Origin and usage
The adjective Herculean comes from the name of the mythical hero Hercules, with the addition of the suffix ‘-an’. It was first used in English at the end of the 16th century.
Many people have noted and recorded the ways in which language is being extended to cope with the current pandemic. It’s not just new coinages though; infrequently used words are being pressed into daily service in efforts to convey the scale of the challenge facing the entire world. One such word is Herculean, used to describe a task that requires a great deal of effort and determination to achieve. Hercules (the Roman form of the name – he was Heracles in Greek mythology) was the son of Jupiter or Zeus, the king of the gods, and a mortal woman, Alcmene. A hero of superhuman strength, courage and endurance, Hercules performed twelve extraordinary feats, known as ‘labours’ to atone for having killed his own children in a fit of madness. These tasks, which included slaying various monsters, cleaning the Augean stables and stealing or capturing a number of different mythical creatures and objects, led to the hero’s name becoming synonymous with extraordinary, seemingly impossible achievements. The entry for Herculean in Macmillan Dictionary is one of many that include a Word Story explaining the origin of the word or phrase.
“The country still faces the Herculean task of ensuring adequate food supplies for its huge population.”
“Herculean efforts from the Sunderland defence stemmed the tide, but the sand was running out.”
arduous, gruelling, exacting, punishing