Word Confusion: Tortuous versus Torturous

Posted March 13, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Now this was a tortuous post to write, trying to keep track of that second r lest it twist up my words.

But it doesn’t really matter how tricky a pair of words are, as the problem remains the same with any Word Confusion…as the easy and the torturous are just as confusing.

If you’re having the same initial problem I had, it’s tortuRous with the capped R the distinction between the two confusions. That extra r makes torturous feel harder, nastier while trying to remember to leave that second r out requires some tortuous thinking. Another option is all that twisting and bending of the -uou- within tortuous — I can almost feel my shoulders twisting and turning as they wind through those three curvaceous letters.

It’s a long and tortuous road — thank god the Beatles went for winding!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Tortuous Torturous
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: tortuous

Cars driving down the seven bends of Russian Hill's Lombard Street tests your nerve

“Crooked Street, San Francisco” by Koshy Koshy from Faridabad, Haryana, India is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

It is indeed a tortuous street to wind down whether you’re in a car or on foot.


A man's beaten legs hanging in mid-air with electrical cables dangling down to a car battery

“Torture in Egypt” by Carlos Latuff is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Yep, this looks pretty torturous to me, and I’m shriveling up just thinking about his pain.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective Adjective
Full of twists, turns, and bends


  • Excessively lengthy and complex
  • Twisting, winding, or crooked

Not direct or straightforward, as in procedure or speech

  • Intricate
  • Circuitous

Deceitfully indirect or morally crooked, as proceedings, methods, or policy

  • Devious
Agonized suffering


Characterized by, involving, or causing excruciating pain or suffering
Examples:
The route is remote and tortuous.

He made a tortuous argument.

It was a tortuous path they had to follow to salvation.

Those tortuous negotiations lasted for months.

He had quite the tortuous mind.

Both paths were tortuous and strewn with boulders.

George always found contracts a tortuous read.

It was a torturous eight weeks in their prison camp.

They had a torturous five days of fitness training.

Her memories of that rape five years ago still left her with torturous dreams.

The torturous beatings were so bad that he hadn’t even the strength to groan.

The desert heat and the lack of water were torturous.

Derivatives:
Adjective: nontortuous, untortuous
Adverb: nontortuously, tortuously
Noun: tortuosity, tortuosities, tortuousness

Adverb: torturously
History of the Word:
Late Middle English via Old French from the Latin tortuosus, from tortus meaning twisting, a twist, from the Latin torquere meaning to twist. Late 15th century from the Anglo-Norman French, from torture meaning torture.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

“A long and winding wait: Fliers brace for big security lines at U.S. airports” is an article at the Reading Eagle.