Friday, 31 October 2014

Vindauga Or Fenester

A window, when you look into it, is more complicated than you might first imagine.

"Window" is derived from the Old Norse vindauga, which itself is derived from vindr, meaning wind, and auga, meaning an eye. So it's an eye or opening that lets the wind in. The word window has been around since about 1200 AD, before that we spoke of the eagduru.

We are apparently at odds with most other Germanic languages which have adopted variations of the Latin fenestra for window, such as the French fenetre or the German Fenster.

Up until the middle of the sixteenth century we had one of those words too; "fenester" and "window" were used interchangeably. Some scholars believe that "fenester" was used to denote a glazed window while a "window" was merely a hole in the wall. If so, then surely fenester would have been the word to survive as more and more windows contained glass panes.

The word "fenestration", meaning the style and arrangement of windows in a building, is still used by architects. And "de-fenestration" means to throw someone out of a window! I'm very interested in the former, but have never done the latter - though I did manage to defenestrate myself, by falling out of a window, on one memorably painful occasion.

But what interests me even more are the little glimpses we sometimes get of other people's lives.

Going upstairs to play ancient melodies on the harp while, outside, roses sway in time, has a certain appeal; though I suppose I'm condemned, for the rest of my days, to rattle out jigs and hornpipes on my old squeezebox.

Then, at other times, windows catch and distort unexpected reflections, like this surreal modern architecture at Murray Edwards College.

And sometimes the reflections just serve to soften the image. Reflections always pose a problem for the photographer who doesn't want his or her own reflection to complicate the image. No, I'm not going to tell you how I do it!

The reflection can become more important and even seem more real than what's contained within. This is the tower of St John's College Chapel reflected in the window of a shop, or was it restaurant, opposite.

So I hope that's shed a little light on the subject of the old vindauga (plural vindaugu) for you.

Take care.


  1. Very interesting, I've not heard the word vindaugu before, but I like it and this definition as an eye/opening that lets the wind in. I'm quite partial to a peek in windows and a look at the objects in the room, those glimpses of other people's lives, myself!

  2. Oh I love windows! They are one of my favorite subjects. You have some beautiful ones here & with the lesson on the vocabulary of windows this has been a most interesting post.

  3. Great post: great pictures, great narrative. I hadn't realised the Nordic origin of 'window', though obviously know the French/German words and root. But having worked with architects/designers I always thought their use of 'fenestration' was merely another example of pretentious twaddle - like 'credenza' instead of sideboard. It's Friday; I need a beer.

  4. Very interesting linguistics and photography her. "Vindauga" is still used in one of our two national languages. In the other one "vindu" is used (as it is in Danish). And you hade some fine examples of the word in the photos.

  5. What a fascinating post! I had no idea that the word window comes from old Norse. I love that little stained glass window in the second photo, And i wish you would tell us how you avoid getting your own reflection in photographs - it drives me mad sometimes trying to get me and my shadow out of the way!

  6. Window photography is so wonderful. I love what can be seen; I love the reflections. It's a beautiful look into other worlds. Lovely.

  7. This is a lovely post on windows, and a good history of them too. Great photos, thanks John!

  8. Another of your fascinating and educational posts, John. Now, about that self-defenestration . . .

  9. I love your window photos; each window has its own charm with the different window frame, windowpanes, curtains, reflections, and so on. I’m curious about the framed views seen from the inside. This post is educational language-wise and I think I’ll never forget “defenestration” associated with your own episode.


  10. The English language is so full of interesting history - it's a window into the rich culture of the English.
    I suppose what we can see through a window can reflect what the resident is willing to share with us, too. Like that gorgeous bouquet.

  11. I love finding out about the history of words. And I will confess to being a window peeker as well! There is that perfect time in the evening to take a walk, when lights are on and drapes have not been drawn . . . .

  12. Fascinating! I've always loved peeping into windows for glimpses of other lives - perhaps that's why I enjoy reading blogs.

  13. I love the nice windows you photographed and included in this posting.
    Very nice!

  14. I very much enjoyed this informative post! And the photos are great too.

    FYI: My neighbour once had a dog named Fenster because even as a puppy he liked to sit in a window and bark at passersby.

  15. Windows are fascinating subjects--there are so many shapes, sizes and the old wavy glass makes for interesting shadows and forms. I can find some of that in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
    I took a few window photos in England only to find the inhabitants of the buildings peering back as they tried to read their newspaper or drink their tea. Crazy American!

  16. I love windows, and your windows are wonderful.
    Everyone is a little bit different idea.
    And of course the reflections are lovely, too.

  17. What an interesting post, and you show some fine windows. In Dutch we say 'venster', so very similar to the German 'fenster'.


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