Word: defenestration

Pronunciation: dee-fe-nə-STRAY-shən

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the action of throwing someone or something out of a window

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

I bet you’ve never heard this word before. Unless you’re a history enthusiast, of course, in which case you may already be familiar with it from reading about the Defenestrations of Prague. I, however, am not such an enthusiast; to give an idea, I had never heard about the aforementioned historical incidents until I started doing research for this blog post. Instead, I didn’t learn about the word “defenestration” until I read a short humorous piece by the famous Brazilian satirical writer Luís Fernando Veríssimo, in which he comments on several words that sound like they should mean something different than what they actually do. According to the author, “defenestration” should be some sort of exotic lustful act practiced by few, or another word for the extermination of pests, or an official term found in legal documents, but he never would have guessed what it really means…

“Defenestration” is the act of throwing a person or object out of a window. To be honest, I probably would have gone the same way as Veríssimo and assumed it meant something a little more vulgar. Maybe I could have made a more accurate guess if I had a better grasp of French, as the root of fenêtre (“window”) is embedded in this word; at least, that’s how my mom got it right. The word “defenestration” is comprised of the Latin roots de– “from, out of” and fenestra “window”, and was coined around 1618 in reference to the incident in Prague that precipitated the Thirty Years’ War (yes, one of the very same incidents mentioned in the last paragraph).

So how can you use this word in your own writing? Well, that’s the fun part: it’s all about context. “Defenestration” has been used as much in formal writing as in humorous accounts, to equal effect. It could be used to narrate a historical act of political dispute or the climactic end of a struggle in an action scene. It’s even become a comical neologism for the removal of a computer’s Microsoft Windows OS in place of an alternative (as explained in this 2004 article from Linux Insider). The possibilities are numerous; it’s up to your own imagination to shape it into the sense you want. Have fun!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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