Printable Version
Pronunciation: æn-fræk-chu-ês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Twisting, tortuously winding, full of hairpin turns, as an anfractuous road in the Alps. 2. Labyrinthine, convoluted, unnecessarily complicated.

Notes: Today's is another word not used nearly enough. It has an intensive sense, that is, extremely twisted or tortuous, more complicated than necessary when talking about an argument or explanation. The adverb is anfractuously, and you may choose from the nouns anfractuousness or anfractuosity.

In Play: As noted in the definition, this Good Word lends itself to the description of roads in the mountains or woods: "Hermione's cabin lay at the end of an anfractuous road, seemingly designed to discourage visitors." It also applies to matters of the mind and tongue: "The anfractuous instructions of how to operate the DVD player left us more bewildered than we were before reading them."

Word History: Today's word comes from the usual source of English borrowings, Latin anfractus "winding", made up of am(bi)- "around" + fractus, the past participle of frangere "to break". For reasons not clearly understood, some PIE words have a Fickle N that appears in some forms, like frangere, but not in others, like fractus. It also arises in some languages but not in others, such as English break, which comes from the same original PIE root, bhre[n]g- "to break". The prefix ambi-, shortened and assimilated here, originally meant "from both sides", a meaning still detectable in words like ambidextrous. The meaning more usually was modified as in Greek amphi "around, about", German um "around, about" and Russian oba "both". Bhre(n)g- turns up in Sanskrit brhati "wrenches, tears away", Irish briseadh "break", German brechen "to break", Dutch breken "to break", and Swedish bräcka "to break, mine, modify".

Dr. Goodword,

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