The answer, my friend…

Consider the word “defenestrate.” It has a strange and somewhat scientific sound, as well as a very specialized meaning. Who knew we’d need a word to express “to throw through or out of a window”? One would think that its apparent opposite, “fenestrate,” would be defined as “to push something (or somebody) back inside a window,” but not so. “Fenestrate” is an adjective and means windowed, or having small openings.

If you know German or French, you might easily guess at these meanings. Their words for window are fenster and fenêtre respectively. These two are even more similar than they look at first glance, for the circumflex accent you see in the French word means an “s” has been dropped after the vowel at some point in the past. (I’ll talk about that in another post.)

Even if it is much more obscure, the English word “window” also has a relationship to “fenestrate.” The Latin ventus, wind (as in “air movement,” not “to twist”), is related to Latin fenestra, window. Our English “window” comes from Old Norse vindauga (vindr=wind)—not so different from Spanish ventana, window.

“F” and “v” are practically the same letter. If you pronounce one and then the other, you’ll see that they are equivalent, except that with the “v” you vibrate and make a sound in your throat, while with “f” this vibration is missing. Linguists use the term “voicing” for this vibration. “F” and “v” are the voiced and unvoiced equivalents of the same sound. If you pronounce a “w,” you’ll see that it is also pronounced far forward in the mouth. Like “f” and “v,” the sounds “w” and “v” tend to be exchanged with each other over time as a language evolves. So window, wind, vent, winnow, ventilate, and fenestrate, as well as similar words in other languages, all come ultimately from a root lost somewhere back far in time that meant “blowing air” or “air passing through an opening.”

Complete etymology of “wind” from OED:
Old English wind = Old Frisian, Old Saxon, (Middle) Low German, (Middle) Dutch wind, Old High German, Middle High German wint, wind- (German wind), Old Norse vindr (Swedish, Danish vind), Gothic winds < Old Teutonic *windaz < pre-Teutonic *wentos, cognate with Latin ventus, Welsh gwynt, Breton guent; originally a present participial formation (*wēnto-) < root wē- of Old English wáwan (see wowe n.), Old High German wâjan (German wehen), Gothic waian to blow, waft, Lithuanian vė́jas wind, Old Church Slavonic vějati blows, větrŭ wind, Old Irish feth air, Greek ησι ( < *vησι) blows, ήτης wind, Sanskrit v⁷ti blows, v⁷ta wind.

About Verla

Wordfreak. Retired private investigator and Spanish court interpreter. Erstwhile librarian. Texan by birth, cheesehead by upbringing, latina by soul, in New Mexico by choice. Lover of things purple. Passionate participant in the Librivox audiobook recording project. We record books that are in the public domain in the U.S. The recordings are then placed in the public domain themselves.
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