In my other blog last year I featured a wildflower that botanists classify as Convolvulus equitans (commonly called Texas bindweed). Similarly, the morning-glory family that this plant belongs to is known as the Convolvulaceae. I bring all this up because many native English speakers will be surprised to find that the verb convolve exists; it means ‘to coil up’ or ‘to roll together,’ an action conveyed by the bind in the common name bindweed. Spanish doesn’t seem to have a verb *convolver—at least it’s not in the DRAE—but remove the prefix con- and you’re left with the familiar Spanish verb volver, whose primary sense is ‘to go back, to return.’ The Latin original was volvere, which meant ‘to roll, turn about, turn round, tumble.’ Notice, by the way, that while Spanish doesn’t have *convolver, English doesn’t have the simple *volve.

Both languages have various compounds with -volv- in them, even if the cognates in a pair generally don’t mean the same thing. A few pairs are:

envolver: ‘to wrap up, envelop, enfold’
involve: ‘to relate to; to include; to implicate’

devolver: ‘to give back’
devolve: ‘to delegate; to grow worse’

revolver: ‘to stir, churn, shake’
revolve: ‘to go around’

While Spanish doesn’t have an *evolver to match English evolve, it does have the noun evolución that corresponds to English evolution. Whether Spanish evolves to include the verb evolver remains to be seen.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Jan 04, 2015 @ 10:04:58

    One thing I’ve learned about these posts is that, no matter how convoluted they may seem at first, slowing down and taking them one sentence at a time makes understanding possible.

    Not only that, there’s a link here to my high school biology class. Remember the volvox, that single-celled green algae? Its name also is rooted in volvere, because of its tendency to roll around. You can see a volvox doing its thing here.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 04, 2015 @ 10:30:59

      Sounds like your attitude toward these posts, however convoluted, has evolved.

      I thought I’d read that Swedish automotive engineers have gotten so good that Volvoxes no longer roll over in a crash. Wordplay and rolled eyes aside, I confess I’d never heard of a volvox till now, but whoever named it knew what he was talking (in Latin) about.


  2. Maria F.
    Jan 16, 2015 @ 10:11:08

    “Evolucionar” is what’s used.


    • Maria F.
      Jan 16, 2015 @ 10:32:56

      “Este organismo evolucionó a ser una planta con espigas.”


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 16, 2015 @ 10:37:06

      Right. It’s one of those cases where Spanish loses an original verb and creates a new verb from a noun based on the lost verb. For example, the Latin verb addere, which English has borrowed as add, didn’t make it into Spanish, but the noun based on the past participle of addere did: adición. From that Spanish re-created the lost verb as adicionar.


  3. Maria F.
    Jan 16, 2015 @ 10:54:44

    “Adicionar” is a verb, but with different meaning. It’s entirely different than “Sumar”. “Adicionar” is not even used in P.R. (at least I have not heard it, but maybe it’s used, I just haven’t been here that long). I just found out Merriam-Webster has a “Spanish Central” section with all the conjugations


    • Maria F.
      Jan 16, 2015 @ 11:12:05

      For example, you can say:
      “Voy a “adicionar” estos amigos a Facebook”. This would be correct. You cannot say, however, “Voy a “sumar” estos amigos. It’s “voy a “sumar” estos “números”. So “adicionar”, even as a verb, takes on a different connotation.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 16, 2015 @ 11:26:43

      The DRAE defines adicionar as ‘Hacer o poner adiciones’.


  4. Maria F.
    Jan 16, 2015 @ 11:18:39

    Or, “La adición de este concepto es muy valioso”. So “Suma” went an entirely different way.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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