Tortuous means twisting or complicated. "James Bond drove up a mountain road that was tortuous in its twists and turns. He had to stop the evil madman's plan for world domination, a plan so tortuous that even 007 himself could not understand it."

From Latin torquere "to twist," tortuous means something with twists and turns –– a path, an argument, a story. It is important not to confuse it with torturous, which means characterized by great pain. "The contemporary string quartet was tortuous in its tonal shifts, but only torturous at the point where the violinist ran her nails up and down a chalkboard."

Definitions of tortuous
  1. adjective
    marked by repeated turns and bends
    “a tortuous road up the mountain”
    synonyms: twisting, twisty, voluminous, winding
    having or marked by bends or angles; not straight or aligned
  2. adjective
    highly complex or intricate and occasionally devious
    tortuous legal procedures”
    tortuous negotiations lasting for months”
    synonyms: Byzantine, convoluted, involved, knotty, tangled
    complicated in structure; consisting of interconnected parts
  3. adjective
    not straightforward
    “his tortuous reasoning”
    extended senses; not direct in manner or language or behavior or action
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Commonly confused words

tortuous / torturous

Don’t torture yourself trying to remember the difference between tortuous and torturous. Tortuous describes something like the long and winding road. But torturous is what a room full of masochists might say: “Torture us!” It describes something painful, like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

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