Saturday, February 23, 2013


Close friends of Underbelly will know that my doppelganger frequentlyregularly deploys the figure of the defenestrator for purposes of illustration and edification in the classroom.  It's a serviceable example for the teaching of depreciation, of tax shields, of economic rents, whatever.    They may therefore be pleased to learn that Michael Quinion in his newsletter on language has served up an ample backgrounder on "defenestrate," offering a political and also a linguistic history.

I like to ask students if they have ever heard of defenestration before I bring it up. Most have not; surprisingly, a few have--perhaps often those of Czech background-- it is for the Czechs, as Quinion explains, that defenestration provides the founding political narrative (although he might have gone further; way I understand it, the Czechs identify two, sometimes even three or more, defenestrations as part of their national story; cf. link).

The history I sort of knew.  Quinion presses the envelope, however, with his account of the linguistic evolution (Quinion doesn't like people to excerpt him, so go here for the full account).  Quinion does say that he hasn't noticed its modern jokey sense in dictionaries yet.   Grievous oversight, I'd say, though it may be too late.  My guess is that defenestration in the modern sense has already been supplanted by its not-exact synonym thrown under the bus.  Or, as you might say, defenestrated.

1 comment:

The New York Crank said...

And then there was Jean Genet's take on political defenestration in "The Balcony," which went roughly like this:

"He died of a heart attack.....[very long pause]...while falling from a 19th floor window of the Interior Ministry."

Very crankily yours,