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The ascent of Mount Everest was first conquered nearly sixty years ago, but it nevertheless remains a symbol of […] struggle in the popular psyche, demanding incredible determination and physical endurance.

What word should be used instead of […]?

  1. arduous
  2. daedalean
  3. colossal
  4. adamant
  5. herculean
  6. gordian

I selected the first and the fifth options because these two refer to physical hard work, but the answer is given as third and fifth. How can the third option be better than the first?

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  • Sonia, are you asking in order to have an answer in reference to your choice #5 or in reference to the author's choice #3? – user114 Jul 16 '13 at 20:03
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    I think this is POB. Initially I would have ruled out daedalean and gordian (both effectively meaning intricate, complex in this context), but even they are in principle defensible. Only adamant seems like a complete no-hoper. Also, I'm somewhat distrustful of anyone who speaks of conquering the ascent of Everest, since nearly everyone else either just conquers the mountain itself, or some particular route to the summit. – FumbleFingers Jul 16 '13 at 20:47
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    It's a very slapdash piece of writing, both the question (as FumbleFingers points out) and the answers. The author clearly thinks that colossal means something like "great, impressive, tremendous", and it doesn't: it means "very large, gigantic", size terms which cannot properly be imputed to an action (struggle). I agree with you that arduous is a much better choice. Unhappily, you and I don't get a vote. +1 for the question. – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 16 '13 at 21:40
  • Interestingly, task and struggle have been used about equally over the past couple of centuries. But herculean struggle is virtually unknown by comparison with herculean task. I'm tempted to wonder if whoever set this question is even a native speaker of English. – FumbleFingers Jul 16 '13 at 22:01
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    Not only does this seem to be to be primarily opinion based, I'm struggling to see how either the OP or any future learner of English would be able to make use of any answer to this question to further their understanding of English. To that end, and given that four other people have also voted to close, I'm going to cast my vote to put the question on hold. – Matt Jul 17 '13 at 1:45
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I would have selected 1 and 5 as well. (Note: I am not a native English speaker.)

A struggle (in the sense of an effort, rather than a fight) is usually described as difficult. It feels a bit strange to talk of a large struggle. Since arduous means very difficult, “arduous struggle” is a perfectly natural superlative: choice 1 is definitely correct.

“Herculean struggle” is also correct because “Herculean” can have two meanings: big and strong like Hercules, or difficult and strenuous like his labours (tasks). One would usually say ”… remains a symbol of a Herculean task“ though.

Colossal means very large, so it feels unidiomatic to talk of a “colossal struggle” here, though I think the phrase would be understood without trouble.

Statistics show that “arduous struggle” is definitely idiomatic, and “Herculean struggle” and “colossal struggle” are markedly rarer. The peak on “colossal struggle” starting in 1914 seems to be due to descriptions of World War I, with struggle meaning a fight rather than an effort (justifying the description as large: it's a large fight because it involves a lot of people).

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