Word: tortuous

Pronunciation: TOR-choo-əs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition:

  1. full of twists and turns
  2. excessively lengthy and complex

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


You may have expected to see a different definition at the top of this post. That’s understandable; I know I was a bit surprised when I first read it on a vocabulary flashcard. Evidently, “tortuous” is one of those words thrown into standardized tests to evaluate students’ attention while reading; since it’s so similar to the word “torturous”, it’s easy to miss the difference or assume it has some grim meaning behind it, when in fact, it isn’t nearly as sinister.

Anything concrete described as “tortuous” has a generous share of twists and turns in it. When used to define something abstract, “tortuous” means overly complicated and long. The word comes from the Latin adjective tortuosus, which means “twisting”. This can be traced back to the verb tortus/torquere, meaning “to twist” or “to bend”.

If you want to incorporate the word “tortuous” into your writing, you may want to make sure your readers won’t confuse it with the more foreboding “torturous”. To avoid confusion, choose your descriptions carefully and be certain the word’s definition is clear in context. You probably won’t want your audience to think you’re writing about the “agonizing” paths of the world when you really mean “twisted”. But then again, if both adjectives apply, such mixups could make for some clever plays on words, don’t you think?

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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