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, which became the spark that started the Thirty Years' War. This was done in "good Bohemian style" and referred to the defenestration which had occurred in the same city's City Hall almost 200 years earlier (July 1419), which also at that occasion led to war, the Hussite war.[2] The word comes from the New Latin [3] de- (out of or away from) and fenestra (window or opening).[4] Likewise, it can also refer to the condition of being thrown out of a window, as in "The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch".[5]

While the act of defenestration connotes the forcible or peremptory removal of an adversary, and the term is sometimes used in just that sense,[6] it also suggests breaking the windows in the process (de- also means removal). Although defenestrations can be fatal depending on 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 of, or result in, death.

Origin of the term

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.

Notable cases

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)

A stuntman diving out a window

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 four 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. During the Revolutions of 1848, an agitated crowd forced their way into the town hall in Cologne and two city councillors panicked and jumped out of the window; one of them broke both his legs. The event went down in the city’s history as the "Cologne Defenestration".[20]

Self-defenestration is also a method of suicide. In the United States, self-defenestration is among the least common methods of committing suicide (less than 2% of all reported suicides in the United States for 2005).[21]

In Hong Kong, jumping (from any location) is the most common method of committing suicide, accounting for 52.1% of all reported suicide cases in 2006, and similar rates for the years prior to that.[22] 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).[23] Recent notables choosing this method of suicide 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.[24]

Prominent examples of autodefenestration include James Forrestal and Gilles Deleuze.

In media





  1. Oxford English Dictionary
  2. Swedish encyclopedia NE2000, digital version, article "defenestrestrationerna i Prag"
  3. same ref.; "New Latin" could be said to be the collection of "Latin" words which wasn't in use by the Romans
  4. Douglas Harper (2001). "defenestration". Online Etymological Dictionary.
  5. Arthur C. Clarke; Tales from the White Hart, Ballantine Books, 1957
  6. Caracas Metromayor’s ‘Political Defenestration’
  7. Abu Fazl, Akbarnama
  8. Duggan, Christopher (2013-03-06). "The allure of D'Annunzio". Times Literary Supplement.
  9. Cameron, Rob (2001-01-06). "Police close case on 1948 death of Jan Masaryk - murder, not suicide". Radio Praha.
  10. Schoenberg, Tom (2013-07-17). "CIA Cover-Up Suit Over Scientist's Fatal Fall Dismissed". Bloomberg News.
  11. Salgado,, M.S.L. (2007-07-20). "Dr. W.D.L. Fernando: Men of his calibre are rare". Tamil Week.
  12. Matthew McKinnon (August 12, 2005). "Rebel Yells: A protest music mixtape". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2009-11-22.
  13. Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. (21 January 2007). "Through a Glass, Quickly". Snopes. Retrieved 5 September 2011.
  14. McNish, Jaquie (14 March 2007). "Law firm Goodman and Carr shutting down". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  15. Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. (1996). "1996 Darwin Awards: Lawyer Aloft". Darwin Awards. Retrieved 5 September 2011.
  17. Claims of 'incitement to suicide' after journalist falls to his death
  18. Palestinian gunmen target Haniyeh's home in Gaza, Associated Press, 11/06/2007
  19. Demmer, Manfred (2008-03-26). "Der 'Kölner Fenstersturz' 1848". Neue Rheinische Zeitung (in German).
  20. "WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports". Retrieved 2009-07-06.
  21. "Method Used in Completed Suicide". HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, University of Hong Kong. 2006. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
  22. 周志鴻; 譚健文 (9 August 2009). "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. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
  23. After the 1929 stock market crash, did investors really jump out of windows?
  24. R. P. Lister; Defenestration; The New Yorker, 16 September 1956.
  25. J. M. Cohen (Ed.); Yet more comic and curious verse; Penguin Books (1959)
  26. Eric S. Raymond The New Hacker's Dictionary Publisher: MIT Press 1996 ISBN 978-0-262-68092-9
Look up defenestration in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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