Portland Proof
An affordable proofreading service

World of Words
A monthly blog of interesting words, phrases, and idioms.  Like us on Facebook to receive new posts.

I first learned the word "defenestrate" when I was in high school, studying French. My teacher taught us the French word for "window," and then said, "And now you should be able to figure out what the word 'defenestrate' means."

Well, I'd never heard of the word "defenestrate" (it's listed as "rare" usage), but I was able to get a rough idea of the meaning.

You see, the French word for window is "fenêtre," which is awfully close to the main part of the word "defenestrate." (If I'd been studying Latin, I would have had the word "fenestra," which is even closer.)

So now I just needed to figure out what the prefix "de-" and the suffix "-ate" were doing in this word.

"de-" indicates "removal" or "separation" ("deacceleration," for example, means "removal of acceleration").

In chemistry "-ate" indicates a salt formed from an acid: "sulfate," "nitrate," etc. Fortunately, I hadn't yet taken chemistry when this riddle was posed to me, otherwise I might have assumed "defenestrate" means "remove a window by turning it into a salt."

"-ate" also is used to indicate an action ("separate," "agitate," etc.). So maybe it means "the act of removing a window?"

Not quite! It actually means "remove something by throwing it out the window."

It's also used in a more metaphorical sense, to indicate simply that we're getting rid of something quickly and/or dramatically.

Thus, you could form sentences like these:

My students want to defenestrate their text books.
Let's defenestrate all the presidential candidates and start fresh.

It was recently suggested that we do a Word-of-the-Month blog post about the word virtu. That seems to be a very appropriate suggestion for this website, considering that the site was designed and hosted by VirtuWeb.net. The VirtuWeb logo appears to the left of this paragraph.

But what does the word "virtu" mean?

The word is closely related to the word "virtue." Both words come from a Latin word which simply means "excellence."

But while the word "virtue" is generally used for the purpose of describing moral excellence, "virtu" is a more generic excellence which has nothing to do with morality. "Virtu" is defined as excellence or merit in objects of art. Objects of art (or "objet d'art" in French) is a term used to describe any artistic endeavor which does not fit into the standard, major fields of visual art (panting, drawing, large sculpture). 

Thus, VirtuWeb is so named because they offer excellence in art on the web--unique and attractive websites.

Oh, the words you learn when you have friends in the medical profession. "You need a word of the month?" Beth said, "How about borborygmi?"

Well, how about it? I had no idea what that word meant, even though, it turns out, I do experience it from time to time. And once I looked the word up, I couldn't stop thinking of Winnie the Pooh.

"Hum dum de dum, hum dum de dum
I'm so rumbly in my tumbly
Time to munch an early luncheon.

Yes, that's right, a borborygmus is a "rumbly in my tumbly." It's the "rumbling or gurgling sound caused by the movement of gas in the intestines."

And, of course, borborygmi is what you have if there is more than one "rumbly" in your "tumbly." Unless you're a cow, in which case I suppose borborygmi is what you have if you have a "rumbly" in more than one of your "tumblies." Maybe.

What is the fascinating word origin story of the word? I wish I could tell you. All I could find is that it comes from the Greek word "borborygmós," which just means, "intestinal rumbling."

But I refuse to give up there. If I can't find an entertaining word origin story, I'll make one up for you. Here it is:

orygmos is Greek for "a pit or trench."

borbor is Greek for "muck."

So borborygmos just means "muck pit."

I can live with that. Which is a good thing, because like it or not, it's part of everyday life.

Now I'm going to go find some honey.

This month we have selected a Christmas-themed word as our Word of the Month. Refugee.

"What are you talking about?" you might say. "Refugee is not a Christmas word! Christmas words are happy words like celebrate, or yuletide, or maybe carolingRefugee is a sad word, and has no place in the holiday season!"

Ah, but it does! When the Christmas story is retold and celebrated around the world, we most often sing carols that talk about baby Jesus peacefully sleeping in the manger with Mary and Joseph nearby, or shepherds watching their flocks, or wise men following a star. These are the happy, picturesque scenes that form the backdrop of our celebrations, and the cover illustrations of our greeting cards.

But there is an old carol (first written record of the carol puts it in the 1500s) that we don't sing very much -- and when we hear it, it's most often an instrumental rather than vocal piece, because nobody wants to sing such sad words during a season of celebration.

Coventry Carol

Lullay, Thou little tiny child
Bye-bye lully, lullay
Lullay, Thou little tiny child
Bye-bye lully, lullay

Herod the King, in his raging
Charged he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All children young, to slay

Then woe is me, poor child, for Thee
And ever mourn and say
For Thy parting nor say, nor sing
Bye-bye lully, lullay

You see, the Christmas season wasn't all happiness and joy; when the wise men went back to their homeland without returning to file a report with Herod the king, Herod -- in a fit of both rage and fear -- ordered the infamous infanticide we refer to as the "Slaughter of the Innocents" -- all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two were killed by Herod's soldiers.

And how did the young child Jesus escape this horror? The gospel of Matthew records that an angel appeared to Joseph: "'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.' So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod."

So, although we don't tend to think of Him this way, Jesus was a refugee. The plight of Jesus was very similar to the plight of all refugees -- people who have left their homeland, seeking a place of refuge, because their home has become unsafe for them.

That is, by the way, the origin of the word refugee -- a refugee is someone who is seeking refuge.

Like Jesus's family, many refugees are waiting in hope that someday their own land will be safe to return to. For some, the wait is short, but for others, the wait can be decades. And for others that hope of return is never realized.

In the gospels, Jesus is recorded as saying, "Whatever you have done to the least of these, you've done it for me." It is no wonder that one who was once a refugee himself would have great compassion for the downtrodden of this world.

As we celebrate the Christmas season this year, let us not forget those who -- like the Christ child -- know what it means to be chased out of their homeland.

I would like to close this blog post with a poem which was written by Henry van Dyke (van Dyke is best known for penning the words to "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," and "The Story of the Other Wiseman.") We have recorded this poem as a song, and created a video from it. You can view the video here: Thou Wayfaring Jesus.

Thou Wayfaring Jesus

Thou wayfaring Jesus, a pilgrim and stranger
Exiled from heaven by love at Thy birth
Exiled again from Thy rest in the manger
A fugitive child 'mid the perils of earth.

Cheer with thy fellowship all who are weary
Wandering far from the land that they love
Guide every heart that is homeless and dreary
Safe to its home in Thy presence above.

Today we'll begin with a test. Look at the picture below, and tell me... is it a xylophone? Or a glockenspiel? Or something else?

This was actually an unfair test, because I deliberately chose a picture of a child's toy, and everyone knows that those things are xylophones -- they say so right on the package!

Or are they?

The truth is, despite the fact that the toy's packaging probably said, "Toy Xylophone," this is not a xylophone at all (though it is a toy).

This is a glockenspiel.

So what is the difference? The difference is in the material used to make the bars. If the bars are made of metal, the instrument is a glockenspiel. If they are made of wood, it is a xylophone.

Consequently, xylophones have a much more mellow sound than glockenspiels (imagine striking a mallet against a piece of wood, and then striking a mallet against a piece of metal!).

And where does the marimba fit into all of this?

A marimba is like a xylophone, except that it has resonating tubes under the wooden bars, which amplify the sound. Marimbas tend to be lower pitched instruments than xylophones.

While all of this might be interesting, none of it helps us remember whether a xylophone is metal or wood.

It would be obvious, if only we had been taught the Greek-origin prefix "xylo," which simply means "pertaining to wood." It would also be obvious if we knew that a coconut is a xylocarp because it has a "woody" shell. Or if we knew that xylotomy is the microscopic study of wood. Or if we knew that xyloid is a synonym for "woody." Or if we remembered from biology class that xylem is one of the types of transport tissue in vascular plants (such as trees). Unfortunately, none of these "xylo" words are well known.

So maybe this will help: A glockenspiel is the only kind of glock you should ever give a child.

Older posts

Word Games!




"In my latest project, I found the services of Portland Proof to be invaluable in creating a quality work that is both readable and accurate. Laura gets an A+ for her attention to detail and ability to polish a sentence or a paragraph."


"Thank you for all your time and effort in helping me accomplish the writing of my thesis for my degree. Thanks to you, I received an A on my thesis and I will be graduating in July with my Doctorate in Theology."