Friday, May 14, 2010

Word of the Week: Defenestrate

Defenestrate means to throw someone or something out of a window. It can also mean to forcibly or peremptorily dismiss or expel someone from a political party or office. Derived from the Latin words for from de- and for window fenestra, the word has a colorful history, having been coined around 1620 to describe some political events in Prague which came to be known as The Defenestrations of Prague.

The first incident occurred on July 30, 1419 when a Hussite priest led his congregation on a march to the town hall. The peasants were angry over inequities between the lower and upper classes. During the march, a rock, reputedly thrown from the town hall, struck the priest. The mob stormed the hall in response and tossed the judge, the burgomaster, and some members of the town council onto the street. All either died from the fall or at the hands of the mob.

The second incident occurred on May 23, 1618, when a group of Protestants, in response to an inflammatory letter sent by the Emperor's principal adviser to a protestant leader, bribed entry into Prague Castle. They interrupted a meeting of Imperial regents and threw two of the regents and a secretary out a third-floor window. The victims survived, landing in a pile of manure in a dry moat. The emperor later granted the secretary, Philip Fabricius, the title von Hohenfall, which literally means "of Highfall."

While the breaking of glass and death--from the fall and lacerations--may occur from a defenestration, they are not required for a proper defenestration.

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