Is it possible to use the verb "torture" in a tropical sense? I mean not in a physical sense.

For example:

Linda: "So what? Did you see Jack?"

Tom: "Yes"

Linda: "So did you talk to him about Betty?"

Tom: "Well, he even met with Betty tonight himself"

Linda: "He saw Betty tonight! So, did they arrive at any conclusion?"

Tom: "Well, yes. They even called the office and received some additional information"

Linda: "What kind of additional information?"

Tom: "Well, I would say super important information. Not only so, but I myself on my way here found out something even more important"

Linda: "Tell me everything"

Tom: " Well, can I have a cup of tea first?"

Linda: "Oh Tom, don't torture me like this"


I used the word "tropical" here because the other day I was reading a book written by one Christian expositor (he died only in 1957) who was interpreting some versus from the New Testament in that book. He said there that some words in the scripture must be taken in their literal meaning, and some - only in their tropical meaning. Since he died only in 1957, I thought that using the word "tropical" in this way would still be okay in the modern English.

Also, while I was asking this question I had no idea that "torture" could imply only psychological sufferings. I thought it referred only to physical pain inflicted on someone by someone else in order to get some desired results (like getting some information from the one who is being tortured, some confession, etc.)

  • 4
    What do you mean by tropical? Sep 17, 2011 at 12:45
  • 6
    You can definitely use torture in this sense. But as @FumbleFingers says, I don't believe that you can use tropical in this sense. Sep 17, 2011 at 13:00
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    @FumbleFingers: Perhaps it is supposed to be derived from trope. From the OED: 1862 H. Spencer First Princ. xv. (1875) 349 These [writings] had been partially differentiated into the kuriological or imitative, and the tropical or symbolic. Sounds a bit outdated to me. Sep 17, 2011 at 13:09
  • 4
    This use of tropical is in the OED, but it hasn't been used in this form very much : 4. Pertaining to, involving, or of the nature of a trope or tropes; metaphorical, figurative.
    – user10893
    Sep 17, 2011 at 16:46
  • 5
    This use of tropical seems to be used mainly in Bible studies, where many commenters say there are three ways of interpreting things: the literal; the tropical, figurative or metaphorical; and the spiritual or mystical. Outside of Bible studies, the word figurative or metaphorical should be used for this. Sep 17, 2011 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure the tropical sense that you refered to, but this is more of an emotional torture that the passage refers to.

Torture is prolonged (possibly intentional infliction of) pain, so she's saying that not knowing is hurting her. Because Tom is waiting to have tea first, she's accusing him of intentionally prolonging the pain of not knowing the info.

Note that this is definitely a jest and nothing close to what you'd consider a real physical POW-style torture. She is simply trying to get him to hurry up...

  • What is "POW-style"?
    – brilliant
    Sep 17, 2011 at 12:45
  • @brilliant. I think POW stands for prisoner of war. Sep 17, 2011 at 13:23
  • 1
    Of course, torture of prisoners of war is forbidden under international law so that's not a great way to say it. Maybe "medieval-style"
    – Rag
    Sep 18, 2011 at 2:20

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