Words That Evolved from the Latin Term for “Turn”

By Mark Nichol

A small group of words ending in -volve share an etymological origin of the Latin verb volvere, meaning “turn,” but they have some cousins whose family resemblance is not obvious. Here are some expected and unexpected words with that ancestor in common.

The words that obviously stem from -volve include evolve, meaning “change,” “develop,” or “grow” and its noun form, evolution. That word is most familiar in reference to the scientific theory of change by natural processes over long periods of time, but it can also generically apply to any iteration. The antonym of evolution is devolution, though the word also has a neutral or positive connotation of transfer of rights or responsibilities from a central government to local authorities; the verb form is devolve.

To involve is to include or envelop (the noun form is involvement), and to revolve is to turn again; revolution can refer to the repeated turning of an object (such as an engine) or to the overturning of one government in favor of another. A revolver, meanwhile, is a handgun with a rotating cylinder that positions each bullet to be fired in turn.

Convolve is a rarely used word meaning “turn together,” though the noun form, convolution, is sometimes employed to refer to something with intricate turns or curves or, figuratively, something complicated, and the adjective form convoluted is common. Another unusual word, circumvolve, means “wind or wrap around”; its noun form, circumvolution, is also seldom seen.

Words that also ultimately (but not obviously) derive from volvere include vault, the word for an arched or domed structure (and, by extension, any underground or similarly protected chamber), and valve, the name for a device that is turned (or, in the case of musical wind instruments, pressed) to produce a desired result.

Volume, the word for a measure of sound, mass, or some other quantity (and, by extension, a collection of content), also stems from volvere, as does voluble, an adjective describing someone who speaks quickly and energetically (though it also refers to rotation), and the noun volute refers to something with a spiral or scroll shape. Volte-face is the French translation, adopted into English, of about-face, meaning “reversal” or “sudden change in attitude.”

Finally, vulva, the name for the external part of female genitalia, may be related to and even descended from volvere in the sense that it appears to roll away from the vagina or to resemble a wrapper.

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1 Response to “Words That Evolved from the Latin Term for “Turn””

  • Thebluebird11

    Just to stick my 2 cents in, there is also involution, when something turns in on itself (and medically speaking, might disappear or resolve).

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