tor·​tu·​ous | \ ˈtȯrch-wəs How to pronounce tortuous (audio) , ˈtȯr-chə- \

Definition of tortuous

1 : marked by repeated twists, bends, or turns : winding a tortuous path
2a : marked by devious or indirect tactics : crooked, tricky a tortuous conspiracy
b : circuitous, involved the tortuous jargon of legal forms

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Other Words from tortuous

tortuously adverb
tortuousness noun

Did You Know?

Be careful not to confuse tortuous with torturous. These two words are relatives-both ultimately come from the Latin verb torquere, which means "to twist," "to wind," or "to wrench"-but tortuous means "winding" or "crooked," whereas torturous means "painfully unpleasant." Something tortuous (such as a twisting mountain road) might also be torturous (if, for example, you have to ride up that road on a bicycle), but that doesn't make these words synonyms. The twists and turns that mark a tortuous thing can be literal ("a tortuous path" or "a tortuous river") or figurative ("a tortuous argument" or "a tortuous explanation"), but you should consider choosing a different descriptive term if no implication of winding or crookedness is present.

Examples of tortuous in a Sentence

a tortuous path up the mountain a tortuous mountain road marked by numerous hairpin turns
Recent Examples on the Web Under the Iraqi constitution that should take place quickly but in the past agreeing on a prime minister has proved to be a tortuous process of balancing competing political factions that, in Abdul-Mahdi’s case, took a year., "BAGHDAD — Pressured by an expanding protest movement and a rising death toll, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi of Iraq said Friday that he would submit his resignation to parliament, taking the country into greater uncertainty and possibly months of turmoil ahead.," 29 Nov. 2019 Nevertheless, PizzaExpress is headed for a debt restructuring, which will probably be tortuous. Washington Post, "PizzaExpress Is About to Be Sliced Up," 9 Oct. 2019 But Jo’s own political journey — from anti-Brexit to reluctantly pro-Brexit to full-fledged Boris-ite — has perhaps been more tortuous than most. Sarah Lyall, New York Times, "For Boris Johnson’s Clan, Blood Is Thicker Than Political Conviction," 21 July 2019 The bottom line is that the tortuous student debt complex punishes too many of the people that it is supposed to help. Caitlin Zaloom, Time, "How the Student Debt Complex Is Crushing the Next Generation of Americans," 29 Oct. 2019 A month later, Lynn filmed Nick’s tortuous, nearly two-minute process of figuring out how to put on a T-shirt and ball cap. S.l. Price,, "‘I Feel Lost. I Feel Like a Child’: The Complicated Decline of Nick Buoniconti," 9 May 2017 Japanese Christians were forced to renounce their faith, suffer tortuous deaths or go underground. Washington Post, "Pope’s Asian agenda: Atomic bombs, martyrs, family reunion," 17 Nov. 2019 At the end, visitors were greeted by unlit caverns, a maze of tortuous passages, and no staff. National Geographic, "Beat the crowds at these abandoned U.S. national parks," 9 Nov. 2019 Bercow’s ruling plunged the tortuous Brexit process back into grimly familiar territory. San Diego Union-Tribune, "New blow to Johnson’s Brexit plan after vote on deal blocked," 21 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tortuous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of tortuous

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for tortuous

Middle English, from Middle French tortueux, from Latin tortuosus, from tortus twist, from torquēre to twist

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Time Traveler for tortuous

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The first known use of tortuous was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

14 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tortuous.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 22 January 2020.

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More Definitions for tortuous


How to pronounce tortuous (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tortuous

: having many twists and turns
: complicated, long, and confusing


tor·​tu·​ous | \ ˈtȯr-chə-wəs How to pronounce tortuous (audio) \

Kids Definition of tortuous

: having many twists and turns a tortuous path


tor·​tu·​ous | \ ˈtȯrch-(ə-)wəs How to pronounce tortuous (audio) \

Medical Definition of tortuous

: marked by repeated twists, bends, or turns a tortuous blood vessel

Other Words from tortuous

tortuosity \ ˈtȯr-​chə-​ˈwäs-​ət-​ē How to pronounce tortuosity (audio) \ noun, plural tortuosities
torturously adverb

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