Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I was listening to the news while driving to work this morning, and a reporter was explaining that New York's Mayor Bloomberg had announced that they would not be using real ticker tape during today's "ticker tape parade" for the Giants. Instead, they would be using chafe made from shredded newspaper. But, the reporter commented, the people of New York might enjoy the chance to "defenestrate the words of all the sports pundits who said the Patriots would win." (Not his exact words, but close.)

I think that's the first time I've ever heard defenestrate used in actual speech. I don't know where I first ran across the word -- maybe in a Nero Wolfe story -- but it's oddity has always been a source of marvel for me. Why is it that the English language needs a word that means "to throw out of a window?" Specifically, a window. Not throw out through a door, or off a balcony, or off a roof, but out a window. How many opportunities would you ever have to use such a specialized word? "If I come across another four-syllable word, I'm going to defenestrate this book"?

For that matter, since we have a word for "to throw out a window," why is it that we do not have specific words for "to throw out a door," "to throw off a roof," or "to throw off a balcony"? It seems that there are still a few gaping holes in the language.

If any of the three of you (I think I lost a couple of readers) has a copy of the OED (I, alas, do not), does it shed any light on these important questions?

If you remove the de- prefix, you are left with fenestrated, which means "having windows." As in, "the only difference between my workplace and a prison is that my workplace is fenestrated." There's a good word to pull out and and spring on someone! But notice that although fenestrated means "having windows," defenestrated does not mean "to remove the windows," as in "I defenestrated my laptop and installed Ubuntu, and I couldn't be happier with the outcome." No, it means "to throw out a window," as in "My laptop crashed for the umpteenth time and I was so frustrated I defenestrated it."

All this having been said, I'm not sure that the reporter was even using the word correctly: Isn't the "ticker tape" in a ticker tape parade thrown from the rooftops? I thought it was. But maybe I'm wrong. Is it thrown out of windows?


Many years ago now I had the chance to spend a week in Prague, where defenestration has been something of a national pastime for centuries. Our guides frequently pointed to ancient windows to let us know who had been thrown out of them. Ah, the good old days.
funny, the *only* reason i know this word is because facebook has an app which allowes you to "defenestrate" a friend.

i've also found it odd that there are multiple words for one thing, which i of course can't think of an example right now.

i think it's for people to appear more erudite...scholarly...learned...smartpants.

(still here, just haven't had time to keep up with blogs.)

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