tor·​tu·​ous | \ ˈtȯrch-wəs, 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

Potomac Watch Podcast Potomac Watch Podcast Gerrymander cases are typically tortuous, and North Carolina’s is no exception. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "North Carolina’s Gerrymander Coup," 30 Aug. 2018 The award follows 18 months of an at times tortuous to-and-fro between the aerospace giant and President Donald Trump, who had threatened to cancel the planned sale over concerns about the cost of replacing the aging 747 jumbo jets. Doug Cameron, WSJ, "U.S., Boeing Complete $3.9 Billion Air Force One Deal," 17 July 2018 PowerPoint made simple things complicated by turning even the most basic subject into a byzantine series of lists, that then generated other equally tortuous lists, which then gave birth to still other heart-rending, soul-destroying lists. Joe Queenan, WSJ, "My Short List of Things That Need to Be ‘De-Invented’," 9 Nov. 2018 After decades of tortuous and fruitless negotiations between Athens and Skopje, Macedonia's prime minister agreed to the change to North Macedonia. Konstantin Testorides, Fox News, "Macedonia or North Macedonia? Vote tests a nation's identity," 28 Sep. 2018 But his tortuous route actually did link the two sides of the world, and geographers now credit Mackenzie and his maps with making breakthroughs in our knowledge of the subarctic. Rinker Buck, WSJ, "Venturing Into the Great Northwest," 9 Mar. 2018 Nora has been embattled in a tortuous legal struggle for her family home since the 1980s. Vic Mensa, Time, "Vic Mensa: What Palestine Taught Me About American Racism," 12 Jan. 2018 Circuit Court Judge Paul Felix dismissed ITM’s lawsuit against Noblesville alleging defamation and slander, restraint of trade and tortuous interference when the city refused to renew terms of a lease agreement to stay at its longtime 10-acre home. John Tuohy, Indianapolis Star, "Judge orders train museum out of Noblesville home by July 12," 29 June 2018 That could make the path to an eventual government tortuous. Eric Sylvers, WSJ, "Italy Seeks New Government Across Deepening North-South Divide," 3 Apr. 2018

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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Last Updated

14 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for tortuous

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

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More Definitions for tortuous



English Language Learners Definition of tortuous

: having many twists and turns

: complicated, long, and confusing


tor·​tu·​ous | \ ˈtȯr-chə-wəs \

Kids Definition of tortuous

: having many twists and turns a tortuous path


tor·​tu·​ous | \ ˈtȯrch-(ə-)wəs \

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 \ noun, plural -ties
torturously adverb

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More from Merriam-Webster on tortuous

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tortuous

Spanish Central: Translation of tortuous

Nglish: Translation of tortuous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tortuous for Arabic Speakers

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