Volviendo a convólvulo

The title of today’s post is misleading—how can I return to something I’ve never discussed?—but I hope you’ll suspend your disbelief, withhold your criticism, and turn with me to the topic at hand. Spanish volver ‘to return, go back’ developed from Latin volvere, whose meanings included ‘to roll, turn about, turn round, tumble’ and figuratively ‘to turn [something] over [in your mind], to ponder, meditate upon.’ To that Latin verb the Romans prefixed con- ‘together with’ to create the compound convolvere, which meant ‘to roll, wind, or twist together; to coil; to wrap around.’ For whatever reason, Spanish has neither inherited nor borrowed *convolver, but English has carried the Latin verb over as convolve, whose meanings are ‘to roll together, twist together, curl up.’

To the stem of the verb convolvere the Romans added a diminutive ending to create the noun convolvulus, which they applied to one thing in the animal world and another in the plant world; Spanish has followed suit with convólvulo. In the realm of insects, a convólvulo is ‘a certain type of caterpillar that wraps itself up in a grape vine leaf,’ and in the plant kingdom a convólvulo is ‘a certain type of twining vine.’ Botanists have gone even further, taking Latin convolvulus and adding yet another suffix: the resulting Convolvuláceas/Convolvulaceae serves as the name of the botanical family that includes the Spanish convólvulo vine and its many twining relatives. In particular, botanists use Convolvulus itself as the name of one genus in that family.

In central Texas, where I live, the most common species in the genus Convolvulus is Convolvulus equitans, which English-speaking settlers in these here parts contemptuously named Texas bindweed. Bind to other plants (including crops) it certainly does, but one man’s weed is another man’s wildflower, and I’m a man of the second kind. Look at the following photograph, taken from above.

Texas bindweed, Convolvulus equitans

Or look at this one, taken from below, and choose: weed or wildflower?

The base of a flower of Texas bindweed, Convolvulus equitans.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ann M. Skowronski
    Apr 18, 2011 @ 01:38:04

    Thanks for the explanation. A fellow blogger left a link to your page in a comment to one of my posts. I take pictures of flowers, but then I never know what they are–unless they are for sale at Home Depot.


  2. Trackback: Ol’ man etymology, he jes keeps rollin’ along. « Spanish-English Word Connections
  3. Trackback: Another Beginning « Portraits of Wildflowers

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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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