tr.v. dis·tort·ed, dis·tort·ing, dis·torts
1. To twist out of a proper or natural relation of parts; misshape: a reflection distorted in the moving water; a face distorted in misery.
2. To cause to deviate from what is normal, reasonable, or accurate: "Though I knew how to translate exactly what she had told me, I realized that any translation would distort the deepest meaning of her message" (Richard Rodriguez).
3. Electronics To cause distortion in (a signal or waveform, for example).
[Latin distorquēre, distort- : dis-, apart; see DIS- + torquēre, to twist; see terkw- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: distort, twist, deform, contort, warp
These verbs mean to alter form or character, usually disadvantageously. To distort is to change the physical shape of something, as by torsion or exaggerating certain features, or to misconstrue the meaning of something: "The human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things" (Francis Bacon).
Twist applies to distortion of form or meaning: He twisted his mouth in pain. She accused me of twisting her words. Deform refers to change that disfigures and often implies the loss of desirable qualities such as beauty: Erosion deforms the landscape. Contort implies violent change that produces unnatural or grotesque effects: "The body of the bird ... contorted suddenly. Its back arching; its head and tail straining to feel the touch of the other; its taloned feet grappling for a hold on a world that was gone" (Pete Dunne).
Warp can refer to turning from a flat or straight form or from a true course or direction: The floorboards warped over the years. His judgment is warped by prejudice.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.