A screw is a tornillo, and the tool used to put one into something is a destornillador. This has always confused me, because des- is a negating prefix. This means that the tool is referred to is an "un-screwer" or "screw remover" in Spanish, which logically can't be its primary use because you can't unscrew more screws than have been screwed in in the first place.

Why is it called that, rather than tornillador?

  • 3
    The action called to remove a screw is desatornillar. (= revome the screw from the surface where placed.) Atornillar is the action to place the screw in the surface. Either atornillador or desatornillador work as a unique tool to perform both actions.
    – Schwale
    Jul 22, 2016 at 18:14
  • It's even more puzzling to me why in Spain they call "tirafondos" what we call "tornillos". Maybe I should write a question about it.
    – DGaleano
    Jul 22, 2016 at 19:00
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    It's called that to make it harder for poor old English speakers like me to get their tongues round it. atornillador would be too easy.
    – mdewey
    Jul 22, 2016 at 20:33
  • The comment from @Ustanak should be the answer you are looking for. Jul 22, 2016 at 21:23
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    Im spanish and I would never asked myself that haha Maybe it is because you usually need one to un-screw something that came screwed from the store.
    – Josu Goñi
    Jul 22, 2016 at 22:48

1 Answer 1


des is not necessarily negative but an action that could be done or undone. See the definition of destornillador by the Real Academia de la Lengua Española:

Instrumento de hierro u otra materia, que sirve para destornillar y atornillar. http://dle.rae.es/?id=DUVd5lp

Other name for the tool is atornillador where we have something like a positive action. See the Real Academia de la Lengua Española http://dle.rae.es/?id=4ITCeKd

  • 1
    I think this might be a fine answer, but it should be authoritative rather than suggesting "maybe." This means it should probably be validated as correct, and then stated as so, ideally linking to an official source.
    – Flimzy
    Jul 24, 2016 at 10:17
  • I barely heard "atornillador". If exists as a word it's really uncommon to hear or say it. At least in Bolivia. Good answer, though.
    – Delonix R.
    Jul 25, 2016 at 10:44

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