defenestrate

If you’re like a lot of people, defenestrate is one of your favourite words. It has that marvellous scuffling sound, more finicky than finesse, looking like an ungainly portmanteau of defense, demonstrate, and perhaps a few others such as infestation and finasteride, and all of that going right out the window – for who does not appreciate the image of throwing things or people out of windows?

Its construction is straightforward enough. The fenestr- root comes from Latin fenestra ‘window’ and can be seen reflected in languages such as French (fenêtre), Italian (finestra), Portuguese (fenestra and also fresta), and even Swedish (fönster), German (Fenster), Dutch (venster), and Welsh (ffenstr). Not English, though – our window comes from Old Norse vindauga (‘wind-eye’), as does, among others, Irish fuinneog. The -ation suffixation is plain enough. The de- may seem odd; for one thing, fenestration refers to the windows of a building, and to fenestrate is to put windows in something, so defenestration might seem to refer to removing windows; but for another, the usual prefix for ‘going out’ is e-, as in eject, or ex-, as in expel. But oh well. Exfenestrate has not caught on, and the probably better-formed efenestrate just does not have that same something that defenestrate has. Anyway, the de- also connotes a downward trajectory, which is usual in such instances.

But if we have defenestrate for throwing out a window, why not words for throwing into a window, or other window-related actions? 

As it turns out, the field of such lexemes is not altogether barren. As Haggard Hawks tweeted, adfenestrate means “to sneak through an open window.” That uses ad-, meaning ‘to’ (e.g., administer). Others suggest themselves readily – and I and others have suggested them. Infenestrate, reasonably enough, means ‘throw in through a window’, and I didn’t have to make it up, although it has been pointed out that perfenestrate might be better formed for that (with per- as in perfuse). For completeness, I suggest that perifenestrate (with peri- as in periphery) would be ‘throw around a window’, parafenestrate (with para- as in paralegal) would be ‘throw in the general vicinity of a window’, antifenestrate (with anti- as in antipope) would be ‘throw against a window’, antefenestrate (with ante- as in antechamber) would be ‘throw in front of a window’, and profenestrate (with pro- as in projectile) would be ‘throw towards a window’. 

To all this Haggard Hawks added that presumably counterfenestrate would be “to throw someone back through the window they’ve just been thrown out of” (it occurs to me that refenestrate could also work for that, though perhaps that’s better to mean ‘put back into a window’ – or ‘put a window back in’, probably after you knocked it out with all this throwing of things). Mededitor threw in penultifenestrate, “throwing someone out of the next-to-last window.” I tossed on interfenestrate, ‘throw out one window and into another’. Brian Baresch suggested confenestrate “for throwing someone away from a window, possibly someone who was trying to escape thereby (efenestrate).” And Mary Hrovat pushed it towards adjectives: subfenestrate to mean ‘below the window’ and superfenestrate to mean ‘above the window’.

As I consider further, we could also have transfenestrate, ‘throw across a window’, abfenestrate, ‘get away from a window’, and, somehow, though I can’t quite picture it, intrafenestrate, ‘throw within a window’ (well, perhaps this word would be better as an adjective meaning ‘within a window’). And, just to get macaronic and borrow from Greek, if you throw (or perhaps even stick) something onto a window, we can say you epifenestrate it.

All of which is well and good, but of course we know that most of these have limited use. Not that defenestrate gets all that many occasions for actual referential use – but it sure has its aspirational value.

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