What does ‘anfractuous’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: anfractuous…

I encountered the byline, ‘Anthony Horowitz,’ somewhere during the last year and — because I found his writing amusing — made a mental note of his name. (I had thought I’d seen him in the New Yorker, but a recent search of the magazine appears to prove me wrong about that.)

In any case, he’s an English novelist and screenwriter specialising in mystery and suspense. Widely published for young adult readers (his works include the Alex Rider series) he is also an adult fiction writer of some repute. He was commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate and Orion Books to write two new Sherlock Holmes novels. And he was commissioned by the Ian Fleming Estate to write the 2015 James Bond novel Trigger Mortis. He also wrote the first seven episodes of the popular TV series Midsomer Murders and is writer and creator of the drama Foyle’s War.

Last year, I bought his 2016 book Magpie Murders, even though I don’t typically read murder mysteries. It took me a long while to become engaged by it but once I hit the halfway point I started enjoying myself. Horowitz also gave me my word of the week, anfractuous. Here is how he used it:

Lord Quentin Crump comes slumping down the staircase, lording it as he always does over the cooks and maids, the under-butlers and the footmen that exist only in his anfractuous imagination…

I had never before encountered the adjective anfractuous but it means something that is sinuous or circuitous. The root is Latin, from anfractuosus meaning “roundabout, winding,” from anfractus “a winding, turning, a bending round,” especially “a circuitous route.” The photo at the top of this post, which is from my own travels, shows an anfractuous labyrinth in Newfoundland.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Jan. 10/18.

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