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For the heavy metal band, see Defenestration (band).

Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window.[1] The term was coined around the time of an incident in Prague Castle in the year 1618. The word comes from the Latin de- (out of or away from) and fenestra (window or opening).[2] Likewise, it can also refer to the condition of being thrown out of a window, as in "The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch".[3]

While the act of defenestration connotes the forcible or peremptory removal of an adversary, and the term is sometimes used in just that sense,[4] it also suggests breaking the windows in the process (de- also means removal). Although defenestrations can be fatal due to the height of the window through which a person is thrown or throws oneself or due to lacerations from broken glass, the act of defenestration need not carry the intent or result of death.

Origin of the term[edit]

The term originates from two incidents in history, both occurring in Prague. In 1419, seven town officials were thrown from the Town Hall, precipitating the Hussite War. In 1618, two Imperial governors and their secretary were tossed from Prague Castle, sparking the Thirty Years War. These incidents, particularly in 1618, were referred to as the Defenestrations of Prague and gave rise to the term and the concept.

The word root derives from Latin fenestra for "window".

Notable defenestrations in history[edit]

The defenestration of the Biblical Queen Jezebel at Jezreel, by Gustave Doré

Historically, the word defenestration referred to an act of political dissent. Notably, the Defenestrations of Prague in 1419 and 1618 helped to trigger prolonged conflict within Bohemia and beyond. Some Catholics ascribed the survival of those defenestrated at Prague Castle in 1618 to divine intervention.

Self-defenestration (jumping out of a window)[edit]

Self-defenestration (autodefenestration) is the act of jumping, propelling oneself, or causing oneself to fall, out of a window. This phenomenon played a notable role in such events as the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, the 9-11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center, and other disasters. In December 1840, Abraham Lincoln and 4 other Illinois legislators jumped out of a window in a political maneuver designed to prevent a quorum on a vote that would have eliminated the Illinois State Bank.

Self-defenestration is also a method of suicide. In the United States, self-defenestration is among the least common methods of committing suicide (typically less than 2% of all reported suicides in the United States for 2005).[12]

In Hong Kong, jumping is the most common method (from any location) of committing suicide, accounting for 52.1% of all reported suicide cases in 2006, and similar rates for the years prior to that.[13] The Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong believes that it may be due to the abundance of easily accessible high-rise buildings in Hong Kong (implying that much of the jumping is out of windows or from roof tops).[14] Recent notables choosing this method of departure include actor Leslie Cheung. Population density is such that it is not uncommon for the defenestratee to kill or maim a passerby upon arrival at the pavement below.

There is an urban legend in the U.S. that many Wall Street investors autodefenestrated during the 1929 stock market crash.[15]

In film[edit]

In literature[edit]

In his poem Defenestration, R.P. Lister wrote with amusement over the creation of so exalted a word for so basic a concept. The poem narrates the thoughts of a philosopher undergoing defenestration. As he falls, the philosopher considers why there should be a particular word for the experience, when many equally simple concepts don't have specific names. In an evidently ironic commentary on the word, Lister has the philosopher summarize his thoughts with, "I concluded that the incidence of logodaedaly was purely adventitious."[16][17]

The play Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo was inspired by the death of Giuseppe Pinelli while being held by the Milan police.

In Jennifer Paynter's Mary Bennet, a young Mary, enraged by George Rovere's insulting mutterings about her poor vision, and his spying on her sister Elizabeth and Mr Coates kissing, she was tempted to push him from the open schoolroom window of Netherfield.[18]

There is a range of hacker witticisms referring to "defenestration". For example, the term is sometimes used humorously among GNU/Linux users to describe the act of removing Microsoft Windows from a computer.[19][20]

Harry Potter and Hermione Granger escape from Lord Voldemort by jumping out of a window in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

In television[edit]

The murderer Joe Macer in the British soap opera EastEnders dies after he is accidentally pushed through a window by Jim Branning, protecting his wife, Dot Branning.

In an episode of the TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, while watching The Screaming Skull, Tom Servo quips "Can I interest you in some defenestration?" as the main character's husband leads her towards a window.

On the television series 24: Live Another Day, Jack Bauer defenestrates Margot Al-Harazi as an act of retribution for the day's terrorist attacks.

In the Sci-Fi sitcom Red Dwarf (TV series), Dave Lister is thrown through a pub window, however, due to it being in a parallel universe where time travels backwards, the broken window becomes fixed.


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ Douglas Harper (2001). "defenestration". Online Etymological Dictionary. 
  3. ^ Arthur C. Clarke; Tales from the White Hart, Ballantine Books, 1957
  4. ^ Caracas Metromayor’s ‘Political Defenestration’
  5. ^ Abu Fazl, Akbarnama
  6. ^ M.S.L. Salgado, Dr. W.D.L. Fernando: Men of his calibre are rare, Tamilweek, 20 July 2007
  7. ^ Matthew McKinnon (August 12, 2005). "Rebel Yells: A protest music mixtape". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Cauchon, Dennis and Martha Moore (September 2, 2002). "Desperation forced a horrific decision". USATODAY. Retrieved 2006-09-09. 
  10. ^ Claims of 'incitement to suicide' after journalist falls to his death
  11. ^ Palestinian gunmen target Haniyeh's home in Gaza, Associated Press, 11/06/2007 [2]
  12. ^ "WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports". Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  13. ^ "Method Used in Completed Suicide". HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, University of Hong Kong. 2006. Retrieved 2009-09-10. 
  14. ^ "遭家人責罵:掛住上網媾女唔讀書 成績跌出三甲 中四生跳樓亡". Apple Daily. 9 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-10.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help); |first2= missing |last2= in Authors list (help)
  15. ^ After the 1929 stock market crash, did investors really jump out of windows?
  16. ^ R. P. Lister; Defenestration; The New Yorker, 16 September 1956.
  17. ^ J. M. Cohen (Ed.); Yet more comic and curious verse; Penguin Books (1959)
  18. ^ Paynter, Jennifer (2012). Mary Bennet : pride, prejudice and the forgotten sister. Camberwell, Victoria: Viking. ISBN 9780670075706. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ Eric S. Raymond The New Hacker's Dictionary Publisher: MIT Press 1996 ISBN 978-0-262-68092-9