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Sconvolgere: another "S" prefix!

In a recent segment of Imma Tataranni, the verb sconvolgere came up, and was included in the vocabulary review as well.

Però poi, quello che ha scoperto l'ha sconvolta.

But then, what she discovered devastated her.

Caption 28, Imma Tataranni Sostituto procuratore S1 EP 4 Maltempo - Part 25

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Sconvolgere and its past participle sconvolto are very common words and for anyone speaking Italian on a daily basis, the sense is clear (and can change somewhat depending on the context). But translating the verb into English is a different story, and so one wonders if there isn't some cognate that would make it clearer. The fact is that many of the translations we use for sconvolto (the past participle of sconvolgere, often used as an adjective) have other cognates in Italian. We'll list a few of them here:


"shocked,"  — scioccato 

"devastated" — devastato

"disturbed" — disturbato or turbato


"To upset" might be the closest in meaning, but the idea of "upset" in English isn't always close enough to the strong emotion associated with lo sconvolgimento. We can often be upset, but not necessarily sconvolto. The adjective sconvolgente is used a lot to mean "upsetting" or "disturbing."

Ma senti, Amina che cosa ti ha detto di così sconvolgente?

But listen, what did Amina tell you that was so upsetting?

Caption 4, La Ladra EP. 11 - Un esame importante - Part 5

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For the noun lo sconvolgimento, there are other English words such as "turmoil" and "upheaval." 


So we thought it might be interesting to find out where sconvolgere comes from.


Our eyes and ears are drawn to the telltale S prefix which often indicates a relation with the word without its S and very often signals an opposing or negative meaning, or else it can add emphasis or strength to the word. Usually, the S signals a change with respect to the root word (if there is one). But what is the root word in this case?


A little research gives us the verb convolgere. Does it even exist? It doesn't appear in WordReference. But luckily, it appears in Wiktionary with source material from Treccani. Not surprisingly, convolgere comes from the Latin "convolvere." It's a literary term meaning avvolgere, ripiegare (qualcosa) su sé stesso, molte volte (to wrap, to fold something around itself, many times). 

And within convolgere is the prefix con (from the Latin "cum," meaning "with).


Aside: Let's not confuse it with coinvolgere, which has the prefix co and the prefix in-. This verb means "to involve."


So, digging a bit more, we get to the true root: volgere. And what a verb it is. Lots of nuances! But let's try to find the one that will then lead us to sconvolgere. Let's go with the Collins dictionary, which gives the synonym piegare verso (to bend towards). 


Let's try to visualize this verb: something folds or bends in a direction. If we add con, it wraps around itself many times and we get convolgere. Then, if we add an S, this whole wrapped-up thing turns topsy-turvy. In other words, an upheaval. The verb to upheave does exist, but we don't use it very often. 


This lesson has concerned itself with the meaning of sconvolgere. But there is another very common S-word related to volgere: svolgere, a very common verb meaning different things depending on whether it's used normally or reflexively. See this lesson about svolgere

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