Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: tortuous; torturous; tortious.

tortuous; torturous; tortious. “Tortuous” (/TOR-choo-uhs/) = full of twists and turns {a tortuous path through the woods}. “Torturous” (/TOR-chuhr-uhs/) = of, characterized by, or pertaining to torture {torturous abuse}. “Tortious” (/TOR-shuhs/) = (1) of or relating to a civil wrong (i.e., a tort) for which a person can sue {tortious liability}; or (2) constituting a tort {a tortious act}. Two mistakes are fairly common — both involving “tortuous.” First, that word is occasionally misused for “torturous” — e.g.: “Dozens of deaf Mexican immigrants huddled around Spanish-speaking interpreters in Queens and, using Mexican and American sign language, vividly described their long and tortuous [read ‘torturous’] ordeal at the hands of the smuggling ring, which forced them to sell $1 trinkets on the subway from morning until night.” “Deaf Immigrants Exploited Over 10-Year Period in City,” N.Y. Times, 22 July 1997, at A2. Second, “tortuous” is sometimes misused for “tortious” (the least common of the three words) — e.g.: o “In return, Bocwinski agreed to drop the three other allegations, which were described in the settlement agreement as ‘tortuous [read “tortious”] acts.'” Pat Clawson, “Village Approves Lawsuit Settlement,” Chicago Trib., 7 Oct. 1996, at 3. o “Bridas, meanwhile, are suing Unocal for ‘tortuous [read ‘tortious’] interference’ in their business.” J.J. Fergusson, “Western Oil Firms Face Central Asia’s Political Minefield,” Independent, 15 May 1997, at 12. In those examples, it’s hard to know who made the error: the quoter or the original writer. But somebody did. Language-Change Index — (1) “tortuous” misused for “torturous”: Stage 1; (2) “tortuous” misused for “tortious”: Stage 1. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “If a speaker should ungracefully mutter or stammer out to me the sense of an angel, deformed by barbarism and solecisms, or larded with vulgarisms, he should never speak to me a second time, if I could help it.” Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son (November 24, 1749; no. 91), in Classics in Composition 95, 97 (Donald E. Hayden ed., 1969).
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