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Thesaurus.com lists no synonyms for defenestrate, and I can't think of any (aside from its definition). However, according to etymonline, it has been in use since 1620 (although Wikipedia refers to two major incidents in the 15th century), and according to Google Ngrams, it was not used in writing before the 20th century (with a steady increase until a peak around 2000).

ngram image

Are there any synonyms that may have been used in those 300 years where it was apparently not used in print? Could revived popularity of such a synonym be responsible for the slight decrease in use over the past decade, or are people just not thrown out of windows often enough anymore?

Update:
I've searched Google Ngrams for defenestrate vs. defenestration vs. defenestrated, and found many more occurrences. However, there is still a 200-something year gap.

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Well, when all buildings were 1 or at most 2 stories high, probably not many people were killed by being thrown out a window. –  GEdgar Oct 26 '11 at 2:30
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Also how often do you actually need the word? Do you think you will throw the young prince out of the tower, not be able to remember the word and decide to stab him instead? –  mgb Oct 26 '11 at 2:40
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Discamerafication. –  Hugo Oct 26 '11 at 2:43
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You are missing the real question: is there an ANTONYM for "defenestrate"? –  JeffSahol Oct 26 '11 at 6:12
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@JeffSahol, the physical reality is that defenestration will always be easier and more reliable than the opposite maneuver, but I think we could coin infenestrate, as in: I didn't intend to infenestrate the baseball, but Dad still docked my allowance to pay for the repair. –  William Shakespeare Oct 30 '11 at 1:02

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

First, etymonline says defenestration (and defenestrated) is from 1620 but defenestrate only from 1915. So the simple answer why defenestrate wasn't used before the 20th century is because the word, well, the word hadn't been used before -- it hadn't been 'invented' yet.

Defenestrate may be a bit earler that 1915, here's the earlies I could find, from a 1909 The Athenaeum:

Jehu's command to the Eunuchs to " defenestrate yon luxurious dame " was much appreciated. A new word is always welcome.

Emphasis theirs, and they welcome this new word.

People were never often thrown out of windows, etymonline tells us the term was invented specifically for the "Defenestration of Prague" in 1618 which marked the start of a war. The fact it was also later used to refer to a one or two other similar incidents doesn't mean it happened a lot or that a synonym is needed. The term is now also used to refer to disposing of anything unwanted: "please defenestrate that remark", and at least since 1988 for removing the Windows operating system.

So let's make an Ngram of all these terms:

Ngram

What's going on here? Why nothing until 1850? Well, Google Ngrams isn't always the most reliable tool. For one thing, not all books are scanned into the Google Books database, especially older ones which are harder to OCR, and not all of the scanned ones are scanned and indexed properly. If we just search for the term "defenestration" in Google Books, the oldest we can find is 1672, very close to the original 1620:

defenestration

Note two things. First: the word is italic, which suggests it is a new or uncommon word (dum regnabat rosa is italic because it's Latin, for "while a rose reigned"). Second: the 's' looks a bit like an 'f'. (See these two questions for more on this). There are some 17th and 18th century results in Google Books for desenestration and defeneftration.

To summarise: we can't find defenstrate before the 20th century because it hadn't been used yet. The lack of early scanned books and problems with OCR particularly to do with the long-s/f mixup don't help, but we can find defenestration going back to the 17th century in Google Books. For some reason, not all Google Books results show up in Ngram viewer.

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Though Ngrams has defenestration recorded only from 1840, oddly. (I also searched for desenestration, in case it was the s-f mix-up, but no hits.) –  onomatomaniak Oct 26 '11 at 6:13
    
@onomatomaniak Yes, I tried that too (see edits). Google Books shows a 1672 defenestration, but for some reason Ngram Viewer doesn't. –  Hugo Oct 26 '11 at 6:40
    
Ah, nice. I'd just edited to add the etymonline link for lazy people like me. Also, you'd written "defenstration", not "defenestration" - looks like that error came back, too. –  onomatomaniak Oct 26 '11 at 6:43
    
@onomatomaniak Fixed, thanks. –  Hugo Oct 26 '11 at 6:49
    
I can only imagine that defenestration has become increasingly popular as more and more people ditch Microsoft. :) –  tchrist May 10 '13 at 22:17

As Hugo says Defenestration was coined for the Defenestration of Prague (1618). But the first occurrence of defenestrate is 1620. As a past participle, it was used by Sir Henry Wotton in a letter, and this letter was published, with the rest of his correspondence, in 1907. See archive.org for full text of letters by Sir Henry Wotton.

So the XX th century date found on the internet as first occurrence of defenestrate is the date these letters were reproduced on print, but not the date they were actually written.

Defenestrate comes from the French défenestrer which existed before the 17th century with the meaning of to take out the windows.


This was first intended as a response @Hugo but with all the urls included it turned out to be much too long for a mere comment.

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Thanks for the Wotton letters, I couldn't find the original source myself. Without wanting to turn into F L&U, both défenestrer and défenestration (currently) mean to throw out of a window (or the act), no mention of taking out the windows, and neither can be found prior to the 18th century. –  Hugo Oct 26 '11 at 9:04
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I imagine that the word wasn't invented at the time of the event.
Or if it was then it was only used in a single source, it was probably later historians/novelists looking for an amusing phrase that introduced it.

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Etymonline says defenestration is from 1620 and is A word invented for one incident: the "Defenestration of Prague," May 21, 1618. Defenstrate is 20th century. See my answer. –  Hugo Oct 26 '11 at 6:42

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