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

Other Words from tortuous

tortuously adverb
tortuousness noun

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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 This flight will be the beginning of an intricate series of spaceflights that could send humans back to the moon’s surface—and on a tortuous path to Mars—for the first time since the final Apollo mission in 1972. Nadia Drake, Scientific American, 24 Aug. 2022 The conflicting priorities of policy makers shaped a tortuous path to a new tax on oil-and-gas profits in the U.K., finally announced Thursday after much wrangling and leaking. Stephen Wilmot And Rochelle Toplensky, WSJ, 27 May 2022 Then there is the tortuous business of tackling the essay questions themselves. Isabelle Sarraf, WSJ, 2 Aug. 2022 Matt Ford said he was prescribed narcotic painkillers to sleep at night as his tortuous lesions multiplied. Tanya Rivero, CBS News, 25 July 2022 The announcement this week was the latest chapter in what has been a long, tortuous effort to build a new aluminum plant in an Appalachian region struggling to create jobs. Bruce Schreiner, The Courier-Journal, 21 July 2022 Over the next decade, Bochner assigned himself ever-more-tortuous mathematical tasks. Jonathon Keats, Forbes, 30 June 2022 Their tortuous quests for exoneration intersected largely inside Sing Sing Correctional Facility, the notorious maximum-security prison on the Hudson River some 30 miles north of New York City. New York Times, 7 May 2022 That's the purpose of the tortuous sequence of hearings, debates, and votes associated with Congressional legislation. Samuel Goldman, The Week, 4 May 2022 See More

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.

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

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Last Updated

25 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Tortuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Oct. 2022.

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More Definitions for tortuous


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 tortuous (audio) \ noun, plural tortuosities
torturously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on tortuous

Nglish: Translation of tortuous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tortuous for Arabic Speakers


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