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From Anglo-Norman tourmentour, from Old French tormenteor.



tormentor (plural tormentors)

  1. One who torments; a person, animal, or object that causes suffering.
    • 1839, Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 64,[3]
      Before that estimable lady could recover herself, or offer the slightest retaliation, she was forced into a kneeling posture by a crowd of shouting tormentors, and compelled to swallow a spoonful of the odious mixture []
    • 1887, Thomas Hardy, The Woodlanders, Chapter 24,[4]
      A girl of the village [] came and rang at my bell as soon as it was light [] perfectly maddened with an aching tooth. [] The poor thing begged me with tears in her eyes to take out her tormentor, if I dragged her head off.
    • 2011 November 10, Jeremy Wilson, “England Under 21 5 Iceland Under 21 0: match report”, in Telegraph[5]:
      The most persistent tormentor was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who scored a hat-trick in last month’s corresponding fixture in Iceland.
    1. (archaic) A person delegated to torture prisoners.
      • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, Matthew 18.34,[6]
        And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
      • 1838, William Ware, Probus, New York: C. S. Francis, Volume 1, Letter 2, p. 56,[7]
        All the racks and dungeons of Rome, with their tormentors, could not terrify him.
      • 1933, Hervey Allen, Anthony Adverse, New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Volume 1, Book 1, Chapter 6, p. 78,[8]
        Her eyes rested on him for an instant like those of an accused person seeing the state tormentor approach for the first time.
  2. (figuratively) Something abstract that causes suffering.
    • c. 1595, William Shakespeare, Richard II, Act II, Scene 1,[9]
      These words hereafter thy tormentors be!
    • 1671, John Milton, Samson Agonistes in Paradise Regain’d [] to which is added Samson Agonistes, London: John Starkey, p. 42,[10]
      Thoughts my Tormenters arm’d with deadly stings
      Mangle my apprehensive tenderest parts,
    • 1759, Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Edinburgh: A. Kincaid and J. Bell, Part 1, Section 1, p. 10,[11]
      The infant [] feels only the uneasiness of the present instant, which can never be great. With regard to the future it is perfectly secure, and in its thoughtlessness and want of foresight possesses an antidote against fear and anxiety, the great tormentors of the human breast, from which reason and philosophy will in vain attempt to defend it when it grows up to a man.
    • 1995, Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, Chapter 15, p. 630,[12]
      As he spoke about his loss, it became clear why he had waited at the station platform every day to meet their train: he was matching his wits with time the great tormentor.
  3. (theater) One of a pair of narrow curtains just behind the front curtain and teaser that mask the areas on the sides of the stage and can be adjusted to the desired width.[1]
    • 1940, Sinclair Lewis, Bethel Merriday, London: Jonathan Cape, Chapter 24, p. 241,[13]
      Then Nathan Eldred, gently pushing, was muttering, ‘On you go, dear. Good luck!’ and she was edging between the tormentor and the backing flats, in front of the curtain, holding her small hands out to the sudden-silenced audience []
  4. An implement for reducing a stiff soil, resembling a harrow, but running upon wheels.[2]
  5. (obsolete, nautical) A long meat-fork.
    • 1813, Charles Stewart, enclosure in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, dated 18 October, 1813, in William S. Dudley (editor), The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, Washington D.C.: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, 1992, Volume 2, p. 392,[14]
      Cabin furniture received onboard the U.S.F. Constellation at Washington [] 1 Cleaver and tormentors/Cook; [footnote:] A tormentor is a long iron meat fork used by sea cooks.


  • (person delegated to torture prisoners): torturer

Related terms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ W. P. Bowman and R. H. Ball, Theatre Language: A Diction of Terms in English of the Drama and Stage from Medieval to Modern Times, New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1961, p. 395,[1]
  2. ^ Luke Hebert, The Engineer’s and Mechanic’s Encyclopædia, London: Thomas Kelly, Volume 2, 1837 p.801: “TORMENTOR. An instrument much used in tillage, sometimes for breaking down the stiff clods, and at other times for skimming the surface turf, for the purpose of burning. It resembles a harrow in its general appearance, but runs upon wheels, and each tire is furnished with a hoe or share that enters and cuts up the ground.”[2]





  1. future infinitive of tormentar