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From Middle English tortuous, tortuose, from Anglo-Norman and Old French tortuos, from Latin tortuōsus, from tortus (a twisting, winding).



tortuous (comparative more tortuous, superlative most tortuous)

  1. (often figurative) Twisted; having many turns; convoluted.
    • 1848, Thomas Babington Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, volume 1, Porter & Coates, page 243:
      The badger made his dark and tortuous hole on the side of every hill where the copsewood grew thick.
    • 1959 February, G. Freeman Allen, “Southampton—Gateway to the Ocean”, in Trains Illustrated, page 91:
      The Southern acquired them because the little Class "B4" 0-4-0 tanks were finding heavy modern rolling stock more and more of a handful, and at war's end the railway had nothing of suitable power but short wheelbase on its books to take their place on the more tortuous of the dock lines.
    • 2007 October 6, “Slogging on the Home Front”, editorial in The New York Times,
      It still takes almost half a year for the average veteran’s claim for disability benefits to be decided in a tortuous process that can involve four separate hearings.
    • 2012, Andrew Martin, Underground Overground: A passenger's history of the Tube, Profile Books, →ISBN, page 109:
      But the early Tubes still tended to follow the public streets in order to save money, hence some tortuous curves.
  2. (astrology) Oblique; applied to the six signs of the zodiac (from Capricorn to Gemini) that ascend most rapidly and obliquely.
  3. (obsolete) Injurious; tortious.

Usage notes[edit]

  • This term has strongly negative connotations, perhaps transferred from the similar-sounding adjective torturous.
  • Not to be confused with the legal term tortious, nor with torturous.

Related terms[edit]