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Defenestration as a famous event

Posted by Keith Rennie on December 10, 2004

In Reply to: Broken windows posted by Henry on December 10, 2004

: : : : : : : : : : : : Words of 2004 at

: : : : : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : : : : DEFENESTRATION?!? Wazzupwiddat?

: : : : : : : : : : That one's been around a long time. It means throwing someone out a window.

: : : : : : : : : These were the words most frequently looked up on M-W this year.

: : : : : : : : What I mean is, I can understand why words like blog, incumbent, insurgent, hurricane, partisan, etc. are on the list. These words all figure prominantly in trends or events of 2004. But I can't think of a reason why "defenestration" is such a topic of interest. It seems totally out of left-field! Any suggestions?

: : : : : : : Perhaps because the hoi polloi discovered it and found it to be funny. I did, as I'm one of them--DH

: : : : : : I think my favourite incident in history has to be the Defenestration of Prague. Not only is that a beautiful phrase, the incident was ripely comic as well.

: : : : : : For those not familiar with it, look it up and enjoy.

: : : : : : DFG

: : : : : 1. "Fenestra," meaning window, is one of the prettiest words in Italian.
: : : : : 2. One should not say "the hoi polloi," since "hoi" means "the." What you are saying is "the the common people." Better to say "because hoi polloi discovered it..."

: : : : There is always a danger of repetition when you adopt foreign vocabulary. River Avon means River River. Pendle Hill means Hill Hill Hill. It isn't necessarily wrong to use these names. Not every English speaker is aware of the structure of his own language, let alone a foreigh one.

: : : : It is common to hear people use the phrase 'the hoi polloi'. It is now equally common to hear others demonstrate their superior knowledge of Greek. I've never yet heard anyone use 'hoi polloi' alone; in my view it certainly isn't idiomatic English. In that case why should it be regarded as better than the common usage? It's just another example of the way in which the language evolves, to the regret of less liberal minds. The third choice is to avoid use of the phrase altogether.

: : :
: : : Just to be a bit pedantic, but isn't 'defenestration' simply the breaking of windows. I admit that the Prague one involved a particular object being used to break the windows (humans), but the concept is surely that of the breaking of the windows?

: : : I know it is only a single word and thus likely to justify deletion under the new discipline, but I reckon that the usage of a single word can be an appropriate topic.

: : : this place used to be fun...

: : : L

: : And now it's a pane! If fenestration is the arrangement of windows in a building, can it have an opposite? I think you're right. Defenestration is just a posh word for breaking windows, or more accurately, window panes.

: Broken windows are always a sign of disrespect or neglect;
: Broken windows and empty hallways
: A pale dead moon in a sky streaked with grey
: Human kindness, it's overflowing
: And I think it's going to rain today

You defenestrate a person, not a window.

For British schoolboys of my generation, and I think the one before and after, defenestration was indeed an event, the Defenestration of Prague being the famous ejection of an unpopular politician or official through the window, hallowed in many standard European History textbooks of the time. An earlier posting mentioned this. Schoolboys easily remembered the phrase, but of course not its context. The word came into popular use, and boys would jocularly threaten one another with the punishment of defenestration, or being defenestrated. The opposite, if there could be such, would then be infenestration, the insertion of a person into a building through the window. I never heard it refer to breaking panes, other than by the force of the trajectory of the unfortunate victim.