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When I fenestrate something I put a window into it. But when I defenestrate I throw someone out of a window. Why does defenestrate not mean "remove a window"?

As examples - when someone has a detox they remove toxins. When someone de-clutters they remove clutter.

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I think it is a 'made up word' in the sense that it is used almost exclusively in the context of the 'Defenestration of Prague' which did not involve throwing Prague out of a window. Fenestre/Fenester is the older word meaning window. It may have picked up a slightly different meaning more recently, in the sense of a quick dismissal. –  Frank Aug 3 at 10:54
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As Andrew points out, 'to take a window out of' would be disfenestrate, though there are philosophical problems there (what would be left after you did?) –  TimLymington Aug 3 at 11:01
    
@TimLymington Probably a matter for Gilles Delueze to ponder but I imagine he might have said something like A concept is a brick. It can be used to defenestrate a building. Or it can be thrown through the window. Or you can do it yourself. –  Frank Aug 3 at 11:24
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And if someone depends (on something) do they remove pends? Or remove fer if they defer? This is a spurious interpretation of how language works. –  Robusto Aug 3 at 12:11
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The incidents (there were two) that @Frank mentioned are called "defenestrace" in Czech, which might have influenced the slightly unusual formation in English. –  Max Aug 3 at 19:14

3 Answers 3

up vote 30 down vote accepted

ODO gives its etymology (at defenestration) as

early 17th century: from modern Latin defenestratio(n-), from de- 'down from' + Latin fenestra 'window'.

That is, de- does not mean "remove" in this case; it retains its Latin meaning.

De- has a variety of meanings, but the sense of "removal" or "negation" comes ultimately from dis-.

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OED has defenstrate as a 'usually jocular' back-formation (from 1917) of defenestration/defenestrated both from 1620. –  Frank Aug 3 at 11:15
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After defenestration, one's back-formation would be unlikely to result in panelessness. –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 3 at 15:37
    
Thank you for this answer. My question shows that I need to learn a lot more about suffixes and prefixes, and that I need to get some good quality reference books (I could start with a cheap dictionary) to help. –  DanBeale Aug 6 at 15:17

As Andrew points out, De- has a variety of meanings.

'Defenstrate' isn't the only word using this form. 'Deport' is essentially 'thrown out the door', and 'deplane' means to exit an airplane.

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And decamp can mean to exit/leave the camp. –  FumbleFingers Aug 3 at 19:17
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+1 One would hope there isn't a word defenestraplane! –  Frank Aug 3 at 19:18
    
@Frank there most certainly is, now :-) –  TylerH Aug 4 at 14:29
    
Your mention of "deplane" reminds me of an English comedian who talks about the sometimes odd language used on English trains. I rarely hear the word "vestibule" and it's nice to hear wider vocabulary. They do use words like "detrain" and some people don't like that. –  DanBeale Aug 6 at 15:20

Technically to defenestrate means to remove a window, or better, to break a pane of glass, but no English speaking person ever uses it in this manner. Fenestration is certainly an architectural term referring to windows, usually in buildings of historical interest, i.e. 'the fenestration is essentially gothic'. The only sense in which the term is commonly used in English is a colloquial one, meaning to take a woman's virginity, and likens breaking a pane of glass to breaking a hymen. 'To defenestrate' has never meant 'to throw someone out of a window'.

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Could you add a source for using defenestration in the meaning of defloration? –  Honza Zidek Aug 12 at 21:58
    
You claim that defenestrate has never meant "throw someone out of a window". A web search returns very many definitions telling me that it does mean to throw someone out of a window. –  DanBeale Aug 13 at 17:34
    
The fenestra is the hole in the wall; the habit of filling in that hole with a framed slab of alabaster, glass, or an awkward sort of sieve meant to separate the breeze from the bugs is, in the grand scheme of things, a curious and relatively recent (and by no means universal) phenomenon. If defenestration meant something like unwindowing, it would have to mean bricking up the hole (or the figurative equivalent). –  bye Dec 7 at 7:39

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