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

Having helped to shepherd the painting through a tortuous path of authentication, convincing some but not all skeptics, Labarbe stands on the cusp of a career-making triumph. Chris O'brien,, "A dusty old painting turned up in an attic in France. It may sell for $100 million," 25 June 2019 This physically and emotionally tortuous cycle keeps people in an unhealthy relationship with food and unable to maintain a healthy weight. Cynthia Sass,, "What Is the Cucumber Diet?," 21 June 2019 The day after Trump’s election, the party began a tortuous and extended rehabilitation process. Evan Halper,, "As first debate nears, Democratic National Committee is still wrestling with demons of 2016," 24 June 2019 The path to this seemingly simple discovery was long and tortuous, dating back to a particularly bleak period of World War II. Douglas G. Adler, Discover Magazine, "The Grim Origins of 'Gluten-Free'," 16 May 2019 In the years since Claudia Zvunca was killed, the case followed a tortuous trail through the courts, spawning more than a dozen lawsuits, more than 25 appeals and a series of questionable decisions by Cook County judges, the Tribune has reported. Todd Lighty,, "Lawyer should lose license for misconduct in case of girl who watched mother run over by bus, panel says," 13 June 2019 Trade negotiations with Japan and the European Union are coming and tortuous head-butting on trade and tariffs is already underway with China. Timothy L. O'brien, The Denver Post, "O’Brien: Donald Trump’s failures — like his abandoned tariffs on Mexico — make him even more dangerous," 10 June 2019 There's also something to be said for tortuous coworkers. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "Season 4 of 'The Good Place' Sounds Like It Will Be the Most Righteous One Yet," 3 May 2019 Behold the Commerce Department’s new and tortuous process for reviewing exemptions to steel and aluminum tariffs. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Trump’s Political Tariff Bureaucracy," 6 Aug. 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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Statistics for tortuous

Last Updated

15 Jul 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 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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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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