Logophile Language Puzzler: Adventures of Lady Gladys

Test your vocabulary and powers of observation with these language puzzlers.

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Numerous switchbacks made Lady Gladys’s hike up the mountain ______ but not difficult.

  1. tortious
  2. tortuous
  3. torturous

Lady Gladys’s salubrious ways will likely lead to

  1. alcoholism.
  2. the poorhouse.
  3. a long, healthy life.

Lady Gladys would banish a devilish person to a cavern, but she would never exile a diabolical person to a grotto. What rule of spelling and meaning guides her choices?


Answers and Explanations

1. b. tortuous

Although the three answer options have wildly different definitions, they are all etymologically related: They each trace their roots back to the Latin torquere, “to twist, wring, or writhe.”

For tortious, Choice A, the thing being twisted is propriety or civility. Most lawsuits between individuals fall under tort law, tort referring to a wrongful act (excepting breach of contract) for which an injured party is entitled to compensation, and tortious is the adjective describing something that falls under tort law. For example, if, on some rainy day, I destroy your front lawn buying doing doughnuts on it in my Nissan Versa, the resulting lawsuit would fall under tort law, and my act would be a tortious one.

Torturous, Choice C, is the adjective form of torture. The twisting in this case is the human body.

Tortuous, Choice B and the correct answer, puts the twisting on a map: The word refers to a winding, twisting path. (A switchback, if you didn’t know, is a road or path with multiple hairpin turns in it. Switchbacks allow a person to zigzag up a slope that is too steep to take straight on.) It’s synonymous with circuitous, meandering, and labyrinthine.

2. c. a long, healthy life.

If you’re familiar with the French salut, Italian salute, or Spanish salud as one-word toasts to offer up before you bend the elbow, you can be forgiven of you thought a salubrious nature might lead to alcoholism. All four words are etymologically related. These toasts, however, aren’t a way of giving thanks for the liquor; they are ways of wishing good health on the host.

All four words find their root in the Latin salus, “welfare, health.” Salubrious is an adjective that means “promoting health.”

3. Lady Gladys likes “kangaroo words,” which contain their own synonyms: banish, devilish, cavern

Popularized as a word game in the 1950s by Ben O’Dell, a kangaroo word contains within it and in the correct sequence the letters of a synonymous word. Keeping with the kangaroo metaphor, those smaller synonyms contained in kangaroo words are called joey words.

Kangaroo words are more common than you might think, especially if, unlike the examples given here for Lady Gladys, you don’t require that the letters of the joey word be consecutive. Some examples:

  • contaminate : taint
  • dismayed : sad
  • municipality : city
  • yearning : yen

Featured image: Shutterstock.

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