Tortuous, Torturous, and Tortious

By Maeve Maddox

All three words, tortuous, torturous, and tortious derive from the Latin verb torquere, “to twist.”

Pronunciation:
tortuous [TOR-choo-us]
torturous [TOR-chur-us]
tortious [TOR-shus]

The Latin adjective tortuosus means “full of twists or turns.” The Latin noun tortura means twisting, but it can also mean torment or torture; torturing a person often involves twisting body parts.

The English adjective tortuous retains the sense of twisting or winding, whereas the adjective torturous conveys the sense of painful.

A winding road is said to be tortuous.

In medicine, a “tortuous bowel” is a bowel that has several bends and twists in it. A “tortuous aorta” has anatomical abnormalities that cause it to be distorted in the path it takes.

The adjective torturous means “involving or causing pain.”

Both words are used literally and figuratively:

tortuous
We decided to take the surface route instead, even if it meant a much longer drive along narrow and tortuous roads.

The singer has followed a fairly tortuous path to fame, with many ups and downs in his personal life, before achieving his current success.

torturous
Urge Massachusetts To End Torturous Shock Treatment of Disabled Individuals

Why women love high heels, no matter how torturous they are

The plot is based on a silly premise, is childishly developed and is not worth reading, even if you could muddle through the torturous use of the English language.

Not surprisingly, inattentive writers tend to mix up these two adjectives:

I have a torturous bowel, what are my options for colon screening?

The road twisted and turned its torturous way up and down mountains, through gorges, over streams to the little Italian villages.

a campaign to highlight the tortuous treatment inflicted upon animals in cosmetic lab testing…

Hunger strikers in the SHU are calling for an end to hostilities between racial groups within prisons all the way down to county jails in order to call attention to inhuman and tortuous treatment of prisoners.

The word, tortious, is the adjective that goes with the legal term tort. In the case of tort, the sense of twisted applies to behavior. In U.S. law, a tort may be defined as “a negligent or intentional injury against a person or property, with the exception of breach of contract.” Here’s an example of the use of tortious:

[The Court ruled that] the managing member and president of an LLC could not be liable for tortious interference with contract for firing the Plaintiff.

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6 Responses to “Tortuous, Torturous, and Tortious”

  • Rich Wheeler

    Thanks for straightening us out!

  • Edward Patience

    Can you research and define the proper use of “make” vs “makes”

    When do I use singular, and when do I use plural?

    “It makes no sense to me!”
    “It made no sense to me”

    “I will make a cake”
    “I made a cake”

    Thx

  • venqax

    But what’s the difference between a tortious and a turtle?

    BTW, tortious= TOR-shus. At least in SAE ( as S as legalese ever is)

  • Maeve

    Venqax,
    My bad. It should be TOR-shus–in British English as well as American.
    Thanks.

  • venqax

    I wasn’t suggesting any mistake. Just pointing out how the word is pronounced. 🙂

  • venqax

    @Edward Patience: Your question doesn’t really “make” sense.
    “It makes no sense to me!”
    and
    “It made no sense to me”
    have nothing to do with singulars or plurals. They are simply the present tense and past tense of the verb to make. The third person singular of make is makes– as in he/she/it makes. But the S doesn’t make it plural.

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