window / window of opportunity

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window / window of opportunity

Post by Archived Topic » Sat Nov 27, 2004 6:32 pm

What is the origin of this word? I was discussing it with a friend, and was wondering is it related at all to "Wind" or is that just a coincidence?
Submitted by Caroline Inglis (Belfast - Ireland)

I know the word "window" has been dicussed before, but why should a Scandinavian word for such a basic thing like "window" replace an Old English word in about 1200, 200-300 years later than one would expect? One might have expected either a Roman word or a Norman word. So did England suddenly start trading in windows with Scandinavia at that time?
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window / window of opportunity

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Nov 27, 2004 6:46 pm

Caroline, If you used the suggested online dictionaries on the left side of the page you would have found:

Etymology: [~ 1225] Middle English ‘windowe,’ from Old Norse ‘vindauga,’ from ‘vindr’ wind (akin to Old English ‘wind’) + ‘auga’ eye; akin to Old English ‘Eage’ eye.

However, the reason you came to the Wordwizard site was not for the short answer, which you easily could have found yourself, but for the deeper probing answer that enquiring minds crave and that we provide – I’d bet money on it! And I’ll bet you’re even curious how Old Norse got into the picture in the above etymology.

Well, to begin, it is a fact that many native English words in common use during the Old English period (450-1150 A.D.) have been replaced by foreign borrowings. Two especially strong influences on the English vocabulary have been the Scandinavian and the French. From the 8th century to the 11th century, Norseman settled in the north of Britain and made raids into much of the island. The close contact between English-speaking and Norse-speaking peoples and the historical relationship between the languages provided an ideal climate for mutual borrowing. In the period following the Norman Conquest (1066), French was the language of the British upper classes and of much of the official discourse in England, and as a result many French words entered the English language. And the history of the word ‘window’ demonstrates these influences at work.

‘Eagthyrel,’ eye-thirl, a compound of ‘eage,’ eye, + ‘thyrel,’ hole, an opening for admitting the air, was the usual Old English word for ‘window’ ‘Thirl’ is still used in English dialect as a noun for ‘hole’ and as a verb for ‘make a hole,’ but it survives in standard Modern English only in the word ‘nostril,’ the descendant of Old English ‘nosthyrel,’ nose-hole.’ (good trivia question: “How are your nose and a window related?). Unlike ‘nosthyrel,’ Old English ‘eagthyrel,’ was not usually used to designate a facial feature. And from the early Middle English the noted literary work ‘Ancrene Riwle’ (1225, and also called ‘Ancrene Wisse’ or ‘Rule for Anchoresses’ – a guide for female religious hermits/recluses – female Anchorites), we learn that “thurh eie thurles death haueth hire ingong into the soule” (through eye holes death has its entrance into the soul). It was about this time that the Old English word was being replaced by a Scandinavian borrowing. In fact, different manuscripts of the ‘Ancrene Wiwle’ contain both the latest attested use of ‘eye-thirl’ and the earliest use of ‘window.’

‘Window’ comes, as M-W Online told us above, from Old Norse ‘vindauga,’ literally “wind’s eye.” During the Middle English period (1150-1475), ‘window’ had no further competition from ‘eye-thirl,’ but it was still not absolutely assured of the prominent place it holds in modern English. In the late 13th century English borrowed the Old French ‘fenestre,’ a derivative of Latin ‘fenestra.’ William Caxton (1422?–91, English printer, translator, and author, who established the first printing press in England in 1476), in his translation of the Golden Legende (1483), apparently unable to decide which of two standard English words he should use, opted for redundancy, using them both: “Thyse thre fenestres or wyndowes betokene clerely the fader the sone and the holy ghoost.” ‘Fenestre’ or ‘fenester’ was not finally conquered by ‘window’ until the mid-16th century. And one of my favorite fun words ‘defenestration’ (1620), the act of throwing a thing or a person out of a window, is a modern English relative of the now defunct ‘fenestre.’

‘Window’ has also been used figuratively as applied to the senses or organs of sense, especially the eyes, regarded as inlets or outlets to or from the mind or soul, since at least the 14th century [‘windows to thine eyes’ (circa 1586), Shakespeare used ‘window of my heart’ in ‘Love’s Labor Lost (1594), etc.]. In more recent times we have the expression ‘out the window’ (~ 1939) meaning abandoned, discarded or worthless (“the old rules are out the window”). And more recently than I had realized ‘window’ came to mean a short time in which to accomplish something (e.g. ‘launch window’ – 1965, and ‘window of opportunity,’ which was born as a term in the arms race for ‘an opportunity to attack’ – 1979).

(Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins, Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories)

Ken G – September 30, 2004
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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window / window of opportunity

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Nov 27, 2004 7:01 pm

Ken whatever they are paying you it's not enough!!

Eyes being the window to the soul brought back memories
of existensilism, the real now thing of the 60's, but they say if you remember the 60's you where not really there?
found this funny site, a good read. ... philos.htm

Reply from Gary Wallington (Akolele - Australia)

Perhaps you fail to take into account the incursions of the vikings and the "cross-fertilization" of the then occupants of England at and prior to 1200?
Reply from Leif Thorvaldson (Eatonville - U.S.A.)

I don't think so. Viking incursions occured from roughly 800 to 1050. The Norman Conquest happened in 1066. So my question still stands - why did the Scandinavian word "window" overtake the Old English word "eye-thurl" as late as 1200?

J. Paul Murdock
Wall Heath, West Midlands, UK
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window / window of opportunity

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Oct 11, 2007 7:47 pm

I read the following in the news on Tuesday's Republican presidential debates in Dearborn, Michigan:
<2007 “The other topic that sparked fireworks was a provocative, albeit hypothetical, point of constitutional interpretation -- would the U.S. president need Congress' permission before launching an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities? . . . ‘If you have a very narrow WINDOW to hit a target, the president's going to have to take that on his shoulders,’ said Rep. Duncan Hunter of California. ‘He has the right to do that under the Constitution as the commander in chief.’ . . . He [[Fred Thompson]] pushed a policy proposal likely to be controversial -- indexing increases in Social Security benefits to the rate of inflation, rather than growth in wages, for future retirees as a way to alleviate financial pressures on the retirement system. . . . ‘It wouldn't solve it indefinitely, but it would give us a WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY to get our arms around the problem.’ Touching briefly on Iraq, Thompson offered limited criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war, saying, We didn't go in with enough troops, and we didn't know what to expect when we got there. . . . But now we're showing signs of progress,’ he said. ‘I think we've got to take advantage of the opportunities that we have there, now that we see a WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY for things to turn around and us to stabilize that place and not have to leave with our tail between our legs.’”— 9 October>
As briefly mentioned in my above posting, WINDOW first appeared with the following new sense in 1965:

WINDOW noun: A period outside of which the planned launch of a spacecraft cannot take place if the journey is to be completed, owing to the changing positions of the planets. The expression first appeared in the phrase LAUNCH WINDOW:
<1965 “It is thought they may even try a third shot before the LAUNCH WINDOW closes in December.”—‘Newsweek,’ 29 November, page 40/3>

<1966 “The 20-day period centered around the launch date allowing travel between planets on an orbit requiring the least amount of energy. This is the so-called ‘LAUNCH WINDOW’ used to hurl space vehicles from earth to the moon.”—‘Science News Letter,’ 3 September, page 165>

<1967 “The Soviet and American vehicles flew to Venus close together because both were fired during one of the periodic ‘WINDOWS’ for such shots.”—‘New York Times, 18 October, pate 30/1>

<1968 “Between February and April next year the ‘WINDOW’ will be open for launchings to Mars.”—‘Science Journal,’ December, page 17/2>

<1968 “As to timing, they must choose a LAUNCH WINDOW several days long when the Moon is in the right position relative to the Earth, when the sun is in the right position relative to the lunar landing sites, and when Apollo 8 can return to a suitable landing on Earth.”—‘Radio Times,’ 19 December, page 41/4>

<1973 “There will be tomorrow only a 10-minute ‘WINDOW’—the period in which the rocket must be launched to reach the appropriate orbit.”—‘Times,’ 15 May, page 1/5>

<1977 “This is therefore the time to act. The seventies offer what in space exploration is called a ‘WINDOW,’ an opportunity, and probably one of the last ones, for us to launch such an undertaking.”—‘Human Quality’ by A. Peccei, ix. page 190>

<1998 “In the early 1970s, we had a WINDOW to the moon. We let it close. . . we are now set to spend the next decade or two building a cozy little house, called a space station, in near-earth orbit.”—‘Newsweek Magazine,’ 9 November>
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY (or VULNERABILTITY or . . .) noun phrase: A short time in which a particular action or event can be accomplished. A favorable opportunity for doing something that must be acted on instantly if it is not to be missed. The image is of seeing an opportunity through an open window and seizing it before it shuts. This usage, which is an extension of the earlier ‘window,’ as in the ‘launch window’ sense (see above) first became popular during the years of the arms race between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 1980s, when it referred specifically to a chance for launching an attack. It was almost immediately seized upon to also apply to other short periods of opportunity of all sorts (see 1982 quote), and eventually to other windows of all sorts as well (see 1981, 1984, 2002 quotes), and in the years that followed it became so overused that today it is considered a cliché (~ 2,000,000 Google hits, with 1830 new Google News hits in the past hour alone).
<1979 “We are facing a WINDOW OF ICBM VULNERABILITY during the period of 1982 to 1986.”—‘Hearings of U.S. Congress Senate Committee on Armed Services.’ I. page 168>

<1980 “To intimidate the Americans with a Soviet ‘WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY’ to knock out Minuteman missiles.”—‘New York Times,’ 22 September, page A27/2>

<1981 “Mr. Reagan . . . enlarged upon the meaning of his oft-repeated theme about the ‘WINDOW OF VULNERABILITY’ . . . The term is generally used to mean the time period in which American land-based missiles are believed to be vulnerable to a surprise Soviet attack. Today, Mr. Reagan said it also applied to Soviet superiority at sea and in Europe.”—‘New York Times,’ 3 October, page13/1>

<1982 “Environmentalists and labour union groups are seizing this ‘WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY’ between the failure of the last industry challenge and the eventual tightening up of administrative requirements to get as much information on existing pesticides . . . as they can.”—‘Nature,’ 4 March, page 5/1>

<1984 “. . . the WINDOW OF TIME within which to perform a transplant is different in this age . . .” ‘Sacramento Bee’(California), 17 November>

<1985 “Regional bank bosses know that . . . they must rush to acquire their neighbours, to make the most of their WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY.”—‘Sunday Times.’ 16 June, page 60/8>

<1986 (article title) “‘Star wars’: WINDOW OF VULNERABILITY for the Soviets?”—‘Chicago Sun-Times,’ 22 October>

<1988 “By the Reagan Administration's own numbers, the Soviet Union now has 40 percent more first-strike nuclear weapons trained on the United States than it did on Inauguration Day 1981. Thus, an Administration that won office in large part on a promise to close a ‘WINDOW OF VULNERABILITY’ has succeeded only in opening it farther.”—‘New York Times,' 7 November, page A19>

<1990 “Saddam Hussein, the United Nations and the Federal Reserve Board may be teaming up to unwittingly create a brief WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY for American mortgage refinancers and new borrowers early this winter.”—‘Washington Post,’ 8 December>

<1995 “I figure that micro-enterprise in this country has a WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY for the next four or five years.”—‘Atlantic Monthly,’ December, page 47/1>>

<1999 “‘I knew we had a WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY,’ said Burt. ‘If we didn’t move now, that window would be shut forever.’”—‘Sunday Times,’ 26 September>

<2002 “For all of [Condoleezza Rice]'s brave words, Security Council Resolution 1441 puts Hans Blix in the driver's seat. He will decide where and how Iraqi scientists are interrogated. . . . this WINDOW OF LEGITIMACY also makes it easier for countries neighboring Iraq to cooperate with the United States in war planning. . . . Now they can easily justify their cooperation . . .”—‘Washington Post,’ 15 November>

<2003 “This is more of a permissive piece of legislation, poising the state to invest in the LCRF [[Louisiana Coastal Restoration Fund]] if and when the WINDOW OF OPPORTUNINTY to sell the tobacco settlement arises.”—‘News-Star’ (Monroe, Louisiana), Nexis - Perspectives Section, page 1B>

<2007 “There's an unmistakable sexual tension at Wo-long's celebrated giant panda enclosures on the misty upper slopes of Sichuan's bamboo forests. Early summer here provides an all-too-narrow WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY for the handful of male breeding pandas on the world- famous reserve, and the prospect of imminent gratification hangs seductively in the air.”—‘The Independent’ (London), 5 June>
(Oxford English Dictionary, 20th Century Words by Ayto, Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, and archived sources)

Ken G – October 11, 2007

Re: window / window of opportunity

Post by Bird » Sun Apr 17, 2016 9:13 am

this doesn't explain to me why they refer to it as a window. Not a door or anything. I thought of a children's book I read saying that one character took a pie out of a window which was common. Stealing pies that were cooling. Why is it a window of opportunity?

Re: window / window of opportunity

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Apr 17, 2016 6:18 pm

Hi Bird,

I think the answer to your question is provided by Ken in the posting immediately preceding yours:
"The image is of seeing an opportunity through an open window and seizing it before it shuts".
As you yourself remarked, at one time pies (and presumably other objects) would often be opportunistically stolen through open windows. Such an act would be quicker and involve less risk than walking into the same house through an open or unlocked door in order to carry out the same theft.

The window combines several elements that make it a particularly suitable metaphor for the seizing of an opportunity: the immediate visibility of objects on the other side (and the temptation thus created); the proximity of the object(s) to the thief outside the window; the quickness with which it could be stolen; the fact that the window must be open in order to be able to remove things through it; and the possibility that it could be shut at any time, complicating any attempt at theft. So the time available for action must be taken advantage of sooner rather than later, while the 'window of opportunity' still remains open. A door might offer some of these elements, but not all.

The context of the Cold War missile race which Ken also mentioned (and which apparently spawned the term 'window of opportunity') emphasized the general necessity to act quickly, before the enemy had time to develop a more sophisticated missile with which to defend itself, or to take countermeasures against an imminent or ongoing attack — in other words, before it could succeed in shutting the window.

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