Printable Version
Pronunciation: tor-ti-lê-kwi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: (Obsolete? For sure, rare.) Twisted, tortured or crooked speech.

Notes: Here is a word struggling to make a comeback. Supposedly obsolete since the 17th century according to the Oxford English Dictionary, Google returns 726 instances on the current Web (9/15/2021). It has no derivational relations, though following other examples on -loquy (e.g. colloquy : colloquial), we could surmise that the adjective would be tortiloquial.

In Play: This word is still rare enough that no examples of it are found on the Web. However, let that not impede us: "Psychobabble is just specialized tortiloquy." Elsewhere, we might say: "Roscoe abandoned his philosophy course because the lectures often drifted into tortiloquy."

Word History: This word was apparently popular enough in colloquial speech to have made it into at least one dictionary, Thomas Blount's Glossographia (1656). It is a simple matter to decipher it: it was created out of tortio(n) "torment, torture" + loquor "to talk, say, speak". Torture has historically been associated with twisting, so torture contains the same root as torsion. So, we are not surprised that it comes from PIE terkw- "to twist, turn", which also went into the making of German drechseln "to turn (wood)" and Latin torquere "to turn, twist". Loquor goes back to PIE tolkw- "to speak". Liquid metathesis would have resulted in tlokw- and, since Latin did not tolerate the cluster [tl], the [t] would have been lost. Tolkw- is also found in Russian tolk "sense" and tolkovat' "to interpret", Latvian tulks "interpreter", and English talk. (Today's faint but still Good Word was suggested by a Good Word editor and Grand Panjandrum, Jeremy Busch, in a discussion of another word in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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