Stalwart

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks for clarification regarding the word stalwart:

I am confused about the meaning of “stalwart” in the following context: “One of the most influential companies in high technology right now may be a 135-year-old industrial stalwart.” According to OED, as a noun, stalwart means “loyalist, hard-working supporter.” Nonetheless, I fail to grasp the meaning of stalwart qualified by industrial as adjective.

As a noun, stalwart has more than one meaning; “loyal supporter” is only one of them.

Stalwart began as an adjective.

The Old English adjective stalworth was applied to things like ships to mean “serviceable.” When applied to people and animals, it meant, “strongly and stoutly built.” The meaning extended to include brave, courageous, and valiant. In Scots dialect, the word became stalwart and was reintroduced into English thanks to the popularity of the novels of Sir Walter Scott.

In modern usage, stalwart functions as both adjective and noun.

Adjective
As an adjective, stalwart means, resolute, unbending, and determined, as well as brave, courageous, and valiant. For example:

The epic valor of the Greeks in driving back the Italian invaders together with Britain’s stalwart resistance to Hitler’s crushing blows, has given new meaning to human courage in war.

Her stalwart defense of the environment in Maryland is embodied in her support for building a green jobs workforce, protecting the Chesapeake Bay, and for a clean energy economy.

Noun
“A stalwart” can be a person who has achieved wide recognition in some business or pursuit:

Hollywood stalwart Ernest Borgnine dies at age 95
Josh H. Groce, a noted stalwart of the Texas trial bar

Or it can refer to a company or institution that has been in operation for a long time. This is the sense in which stalwart is used in the sentence submitted by the reader. Here are some more examples of this use of stalwart to refer to a company:

Sales for the New York-based pharmaceutical stalwart were $13.56 billion against last year’s $13.89 billion.

The remaining companies experiencing growth last year [included] electronics retailer HHGregg Inc. and pharmaceutical stalwart Eli Lilly and Co.

And while many of its architects are well-known Silicon Valley companies, longtime Milwaukee industrial stalwart Rockwell Automation Inc. has positioned itself at the heart of the phenomenon, which some consider the next industrial revolution.

Finally, in the context of politics, the noun stalwart means, “a sturdy uncompromising partisan”:

AIPAC lauds re-election of pro-Israel stalwarts
First deficit panel picks are Democratic stalwarts

Utah is overall a conservative state much in line with the public policy principles of Republican stalwarts like Gov. Mitt Romney, Gov. Michael Leavitt and Gov. Jon Huntsman. 

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