The most literal translation for the verb spopolare in Italian is to depopulate. Formed from the prefix s- (which in this case denotes a removal or reversal) and the verb popolare (to populate), it is used when a group of people dies or moves away, reducing the population.
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L’epidemia ha spopolato il paese.
The epidemic depopulated the country.
More broadly, it can mean to empty or to become empty with specific reference to the place being vacated.
Ogni estate il caldo torrido spopola la città.
Every summer the scorching heat empties the city.
What makes this word interesting isn’t so much its literal meaning however but its figurative meaning. Some possible translations in English include to be a big success, to be a hit, to be all the rage or to draw the crowds. The idea is that when someone or something experiences success, it attracts people in droves, leaving other places empty.
Negli ultimi anni è tornata a spopolare tra i giovani un’antica moda: la barba!
In recent years an ancient trend is once again all the rage among young people: the beard!
By extension, it can also be used to talk about someone who is well-liked and draws the attention of many admirers.
Quella ragazza spopola su Instagram: ha già più di centomila follower!
That girl is a huge hit on Instagram: she already has more than 100,000 followers!