How do you say anfractuosidad in English? If only a question like “What is the meaning of life?” were as easy to answer: the way you say anfractuosidad in English is anfractuosity. And speaking of the meaning of things, what does anfractuosidad/anfractuosity mean? As is so often true in this column, Latin provides the beginning of an answer. The combining of ambi- ‘around’ (think of the ambulancia/ambulance that goes around picking up people needing medical care) with the root fract- ‘broken’ (think of a fractura/fracture) produced the Latin adjective anfractus,‘ which with some poetic license meant ‘winding, bent, crooked.’ That gave rise to the longer anfractuosus, which the Romans used as a roundabout way of saying ‘roundabout.’

Spanish borrowed Latin anfractuosus as anfractuoso, which the Diccionario de la lengua española defines as ‘quebrado, sinuoso, tortuoso, desigual.’ The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary explains the similar English anfractuous as ‘full of windings and intricate turnings.’ The corresponding abstract noun is anfractuosidad/anfractuosity, which The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines as ‘a channel, crevice, or passage full of windings and turnings.’ Anatomy uses the plural anfractuosidades/anfractuosities for ‘the fissures separating the convolutions of the brain.’ Back in the word of abstraction, the word can apply to the mind or personality rather than the brain. For example, on the subject of the American politician Daniel Webster, Edwin Percy Whipple wrote: “…it may confidently be said that many of his closest friends among men of culture, including lawyers, men of letters, and statesmen of the first rank, must have occasionally resented the ‘anfractuosities’ of his mood and temper.”

You can count today’s posting as one of my anfractuosities, and your reading of it as one of yours.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: fracción « Spanish-English Word Connections
  2. niasunset
    Dec 21, 2011 @ 06:17:23

    What a voyage through the words… Latin, Spanish, English and my own one too… I all tried to understand through my own language. I noted to my notebook this word “anfractuosity”… Anfractuosities of life… ? Thank you dear Steve, with my love, nia


  3. Steve Schwartzman
    Dec 21, 2011 @ 08:04:35

    Welcome aboard for the voyage, Nia. Maybe I should have used the adjective anfractuous to describe the greenbrier tendril at


  4. niasunset
    Dec 21, 2011 @ 09:28:46

    Oh, yes, I can understand. This new word made me excited and inspired too 🙂 Dear Steve, right now I am writing a new post on my blog… I hope you don’t mind because I am talking about your blog in there 🙂 And please if I make a mistake, you can tell me I can correct. Thank you, with my love, nia


  5. Trackback: Anfractuosites of Life « photographyofnia

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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