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 However, after months of tortuous negotiations, the U.K. and EU struck a post-Brexit trade deal at the end of 2020 that means there won't be any tariffs or quotas. Pan Pylas, Star Tribune, "Nissan commits to UK car plant after post-Brexit trade deal," 22 Jan. 2021 Myles Garrett, who was captain for this game, ran over and patted Mason Rudolph after the game after their tortuous helmet incident from last year. cleveland, "Browns snap their 17-season playoff drought with 24-22 victory over Steelers, earn rematch in the wild-card in Heinz Field," 3 Jan. 2021 The Clippers have endured many brutal losses throughout five decades of oft-tortuous history, yet none were ever this lopsided. Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times, "What went wrong for Clippers? Five takeaways from blowout loss to Mavericks," 28 Dec. 2020 Those two weeks of tense talks in the French capital were the climax of 25 years of tortuous negotiations on the climate, since governments were warned of the dangers of climate chaos in 1990. Fiona Harvey, Wired, "Can the Paris Agreement Still Avert Climate Chaos?," 26 Dec. 2020 The work has been delayed by tortuous negotiations over a trade deal between the U.K. and Brussels since the Brexit referendum in 2016 that would go into effect after the divorce is final. Costas Paris, WSJ, "Britain Braces for Logistics Havoc as Brexit’s Final Act Looms," 29 Nov. 2020 The critical difference is the tortuous pipeline hidden just beneath the surface. Daniel Oberhaus, Wired, "A Solar-Powered Rocket Might Be Our Ticket to Interstellar Space," 20 Nov. 2020 Ten officers ultimately pleaded guilty to roles in the shootings and a subsequent coverup, but only after a tortuous legal process that saw trial convictions tossed. Matt Sledge,, "As early voting begins, heat rises in Orleans Parish DA race between Keva Landrum, Jason Williams," 20 Nov. 2020 As if the Brexit trade negotiations were not tortuous enough, the coronavirus added a twist at a crucial stage on Thursday when top-level talks had to be suspended because an EU negotiator tested positive for COVID-19. Fox News, "Brexit negotiations suspended after official tests positive for coronavirus," 19 Nov. 2020

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

28 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tortuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.

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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 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

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