May 23:  Defenestration Day

It’s not often that we can trace the precise day that a word was born, but one particularly interesting word was born on this day in 1618. The word is defenestration which means: The act of throwing something or someone out the window.

Just before the beginning of The Thirty Years War, a war in which Roman Catholics and Protestants battled for political and religious power, Protestant nobles threw two members of the Roman Catholic royal council and their secretary from a window in Hradcany Castle in Prague. The good news concerning this momentous defenestration is that no one was hurt — the three victims fell into the waters of the castle’s moat (1).

The word defenestration comes to us from Latin: de-, out + fenestra, window.

The word window comes to English via Old Norse vindauga: vindr, wind + auga, eye. Window is also a kenning, a figurative device used figuratively in Old English and Old Norse where a compound expression is used in place of a noun, such as oar-steed for ship or whale road for sea. They are found frequently in poetic epics like Beowulf, but we also create them today. For example, here are some modern kennings: boob tube, fat pill, gas guzzler, and gut bomb.

Today’s Challenge:  To Coin a Verb

What are some examples of acts for which there are no single verbs?  The verb form of defenestration is defenestrate – “To throw something or someone out of a window.”  Imagine you were to come up with some new verbs in English to describe very specific actions, such as “to jump into a pile of autumn leaves” or “to laugh so hard while drinking milk that it comes shooting out your nose.”  You might also think of some types of actions that are relatively new, such as: “to get stuck in a fast food drive through lane without enough money to pay for your meal.” Don’t worry about coming up with the actual verbs; instead, focus on the wording of at least three separate definitions. (Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Words and Language)

Quotation of the Day: Never trust a computer you can’t throw out a window. -Steve Wozniak

1 – Ammer, Christine. Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers. New York: Paragon House, 1989.