Short Lexicon of Italian Gestures

Client   |   The New York Times


Text by Rachel Donadio


There is an eloquence to the Italian hand gesture. In a culture that prizes oratory, nothing deflates airy rhetoric more swiftly.

Far more than quaint folklore, gestures have a rich history. One theory holds that Italians developed them as an alternative form of communication during the centuries when they lived under foreign occupation — by Austria, France and Spain in the 14th through 19th centuries — as a way of communicating without their overlords understanding.

Another theory, advanced by Adam Kendon, the editor in chief of the journal Gesture, is that in overpopulated cities like Naples, gesturing became a way of competing, of marking one’s territory in a crowded arena. To get attention, people gestured and used their whole bodies.

Over the centuries, languages have evolved, but gestures remain. Gestures change less than words.


Full story: When Italians Chat, Hands and Fingers Do the Talking