Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Tortuous

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is tortuous. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Tortuous means “having many twists and turns” or “winding.” It can also mean “marked by devious or indirect tactics” or “complicated, long, and confusing.”

// They took a tortuous mountain road marked by numerous hairpin turns.

// He delivered a tortuous explanation when questioned by press.

// The contract’s tortuous language made it a maddening read.

TORTUOUS in Context

“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

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.

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