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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


                Defenestrate, a verb meaning to throw out of a window, was first used as defenestration, its noun form, in 1620. Defenestrate is derived from Latin prefix, de-, meaning down or from4, and fenestra, meaning a window.

               The most well known incident of defenestration, the Defenestration of Prague, occurred in the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War on May 23, 1618 and was central to the start of the war. The incident was a signal of revolt against the emperor. The Defenestration of Prague was the result of an incident of Bohemian resistance to Habsburg authority where a group of imperial regents and their secretary was trialed and found guilty of violating the Letter of Majesty by a group of Protestants. They were then thrown from the windows of the Prague Castle’s council room. No serious injuries were inflicted, though this did mark the beginning of conflict between the Bohemians and the Habsburg authorities. 1

               It is clear that the action executed with the intention of killing the imperial agents and their secretary. Had the victims of the defenestration not landed in a pile of manure in a dry moat, the thirty-meter fall would have surely killed them. The violence associated with the action of defenestration is clear.3

               However, defenestrate, a very obscure and unknown word, now has a humorous connotation due to the way popular culture now depicts the action. The effect is like that of tableflipping, the action of flipping over a table in explosive anger, and as a means of releasing pent up stress. Many times, comedy shows will show objects, or even people, being flipped, tossed, or chucked out of a window. Often, throwing something with such carelessness is associated with frustration and annoyance. When a window is brought into the context of this action, and the object being thrown is going out this window, presumably onto a street, the frustration and annoyance of the person doing the action are clearly raised, as the intent of the action is most likely to destroy the object being thrown. However, because of the depiction of it in media, the fact that we, as audiences, are conditioned to laugh at others’ frustration, the action has lost its violent characteristic like in the Defenestration of Prague.

                To defenestrate something also associates itself with the notion of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Objects are often defenestrated out of frustration with said object, most likely because the object has ceased to work and refuses to be fixed, or because the object is creating some sort of annoyance. In architecture school, instances of defenestration almost never happen, though often, threats of defenestration are issued to models, designs, or drawings that don’t make sense, and is frustrating the architecture student.

  1. Britannica Online Encyclopedia, s.v. “Defenestration of Prague”, accessed November 12, 2012,    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/473764/Defenestration-of-Prague
  2.    Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “defenestrate”, accessed November 12, 2012, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/48799?redirectedFrom=defenestrate#eid7191268 
  3.  St. Bonaventure University. “The Defenestration of Prague”, accessed November 12, 2012, http://web.sbu.edu/history/tschaeper/Hist101/Defenestration.html
  4.  Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “de-, prefix”, accessed November 12, 2012, http://www.oed.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/view/Entry/47600?rskey=x2X3kW&result=3&isAdvanced=false#eid

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