Pop quiz time! Choose the correct word in each sentence:

The rivers become so turbid/turgid that they turn a chocolate brown color.

If the writing is turbid/turgid, the story and its characters will not be clearly seen.

I just took my shoes off at midnight and found that I have little, turbid/turgid toes!

Leo’s turbid/turgid, overblown prose won over his professor in the end.

In the first sentence, the rivers are so muddy, so opaque, that they are brown (makes you favor the environmentalists, doesn’t it?). Turbid is the right choice here. It can refer to something thick with suspended matter, as with the rivers.

The second sentence refers to writing that is confused or opaque. Again, the correct word is turbid. The rivers in the first sentence were so muddy that you couldn’t see to the bottom. The writing referred to in the second sentence also prevents you from seeing to the bottom.

Confused or opaque toes don’t seem to work in the third sentence, so the answer must be turgid. Turgid means swollen or bombastic. One imagines the speaker of the third sentence taking her oh-so-fashionable shoes off after a long evening out and finding that her toes have become little sausages, thus the appropriateness of turgid.

You’ve probably figured out by now that the fourth sentence requires turgid as well. The prose in that sentence is a different type of swollen, one hinted at with overblown. Here, the writing isn’t unclear but bombastic, pompous, full of itself, which describes a lot of academic writing.

To recap:

  • turbid: muddy, opaque
  • turgid: swollen, bombastic