Italian Word of the Day: Sovrappensiero (lost in thought)

Do you often find yourself a million miles away while listening to other people speak? Then today’s word is for you!

Sovrappensiero is an adverb that means “lost in thought” “absent-mindedly” or “distractedly”. It is the combination of sovra- (a variant of sopra- meaning “above” or “over”) and pensiero (thought). The addition of the extra P is the result of a process called raddoppiamento (doubling).

italian word sovrappensiero

Numerous dictionaries, including the DOP (Dictionary of Orthography and Pronunciation), actually list soprappensiero as the main form and considers sovrappensiero less common. However, sovrappensiero appears to have gained the upper hand, with 114,000 results yielded by Google’s search engine compared to just 56,300 for soprappensiero. Furthermore, I asked many Italians I know, and the overwhelming majority expressed a preference for the sovra- variant. Hence, my choice to go with sovrappensiero as our word of the day!

Ero sovrappensiero e ho messo il sale nel caffè invece dello zucchero.

While lost in thought, I added salt to my coffee instead of sugar.

Ascoltavo il loro discorso sovrappensiero.

I listened to their conversation absent-mindedly.

Girl saying sorry, shrugging shoulders and smiling with oops face expression.
Scusa, ero sovrappensiero! = Sorry, I was lost in thought!

According to Academia della Crusca, the difference between sopra- and sovra- can be explained by the phonetic phenomenon of lenition, or in other words, the transformation of the plosive [p] into the fricative [v]. It is a common occurrence in northern Italian dialects.

In the case of this particular word, it is possible that the current preference for sovra- compared to sopra- can be attributed to euphonic reasons – that is, the three consecutive Ps make the word more difficult to pronounce.

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