tor·​tu·​ous ˈtȯrch-wəs How to pronounce tortuous (audio)
: marked by repeated twists, bends, or turns : winding
a tortuous path
: marked by devious or indirect tactics : crooked, tricky
a tortuous conspiracy
: circuitous, involved
the tortuous jargon of legal forms
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 veer away from using the 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 Only a tortuous week later did Holifield discover that on the day she was banned, Instagram sent three warnings to a secondary email on her account, each saying that someone had reported one of her videos from last year for trademark infringement. Paresh Dave, WIRED, 19 Apr. 2024 Tuesday’s announcement is the culmination of a tortuous regulatory process that has spanned four presidential administrations. Chris Hamby, New York Times, 16 Apr. 2024 Advertisement Even with those changes, taking land into trust is a tortuous process that gets more complicated when gaming is involved, said Katherine Florey, a professor at UC Davis School of Law who specializes in federal Indian law. Hannah Wiley, Los Angeles Times, 9 Apr. 2024 Only a tortuous and hidebound Pentagon bureaucracy was holding it back. Andrew Cockburn, Harper's Magazine, 20 Jan. 2024 Seen this way, each bath picture is just another surge in a veritable inundation of truth-telling about the tortuous workings of intimacy. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, 27 Mar. 2024 The Hollywood Reporter published an article in July of this year about the film's allegedly tortuous post-production. Clark Collis,, 13 Sep. 2023 The motion detailed a tortuous series of meetings and negotiations that eventually led to that plan being approved by the City Council last month, 447 days late. Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times, 9 Feb. 2024 Apple’s car project has had a long and tortuous history, complicated by the fact that the company rarely comments publicly on the effort. Aarian Marshall, WIRED, 3 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tortuous.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near tortuous

Cite this Entry

“Tortuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


tor·​tu·​ous ˈtȯrch-(ə-)wəs How to pronounce tortuous (audio)
: having many twists and turns
tortuously adverb

Medical Definition


tor·​tu·​ous ˈtȯrch-(ə-)wəs How to pronounce tortuous (audio)
: marked by repeated twists, bends, or turns
a tortuous blood vessel
tortuosity noun
plural tortuosities
torturously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on tortuous

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