Opening a Window to the Italian Language

Jun 11, 2010

La finestra pic

la finestra

the window

The first thing I do on an Italian morning is open the window  (la finestra), which is not as simple as it sounds. First I turn the hook (gancio) connecting the white wooden panels that cover the French window (finestra a due battenti) in our bedroom.  I fiddle with the metal latch (stanghetta) of the glass panes  (lastre di vetro).   Then I throw open the outer shutters (scuri) and breathe in the scent of the roses climbing up the trellis. Leaning on the sill (davanzale), I look out to the sea in the distance and lose myself in the simple—and thoroughly Italian–pleasure of looking out the window (guardare dalla finestra).

Fenestra, the root of finestra, dates back to the age of the Etruscans, the tribe that lived in central Italy before its conquest by Rome.  The earliest official definition described a finestra as an “apertura nelle parete degli edifici per aerazione e illuminazione” (opening  in the walls of buildings for air and light). But windows have always served multiple purposes.  In Florence you can still see the specially carved finestre where flasks of wine were delivered.

An Italian window can be large (finestrone) or small (finestrella).The window of a car or train  is a finestrino; a bay window, a finestra a bovindo; a sash window, a finestra a ghigliottina or a saliscendi. The word for a carriage window, sportello, doubles as the name for windows at box offices, banks and post offices. The larger window of a shop or museum showcase merits a different name: una vetrina.  A church window (una vetrata)  may be a dazzling work of art made of stained glass (vetri colorati).

A window box (fioriera pensile) filled with bright blooming flowers (fiori) is Italy’s favorite way of decorating the facade of a house. Towns and villages often hold a yearly contest for the prettiest flower box.  “Vota le finestre e i balconi fioriti piu’ belli!”  “Vote for the most beautifully flowered windows and balconies!” citizens are urged.

Just as in English, Italians try to avoid buttare il denaro (throwing money) out the window. “Mangi  la  minestra o salti la  finestra,” (“Eat the soup or jump out the window") is the Italian equivalent of “Take it or leave it”—something an Italian mamma is likely to say to a child who doesn’t want to eat the food she’s prepared.

Italian has a specific word, finestrata, for slamming a window shut (as in anger).   Yet  even if you’re in trouble, you may be able to find a way to uscire dalla porta e rientrare dalla finestra (leave by the door and sneak back in by the window). 

Sayings and Expressions

farsi alla finestra, affacciarsi alla finestra — to come to the window
una vetrata colorata — stained glass window
La finestra sul cortile –– rear window, also the Italian title of the Hitchcock film that
    starred James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
persiana — shutter, blind
tapparella –- roller shutter

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH ITALIAN, THE WORLD'S MOST ENCHANTING LANGUAGE, now available in paperback.

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