- a barrier enclosing or bordering a field, yard, etc., usually made of posts and wire or wood, used to prevent entrance, to confine, or to mark a boundary.
- Informal. a person who receives and disposes of stolen goods.
- the place of business of such a person.
- the act, practice, art, or sport of fencing.
- skill in argument, repartee, etc.
- Machinery. a guard or guide, as for regulating the movements of a tool or work.
- Carpentry. a slotted guide used especially with a framing square to lay out cuts on rafters and staircase strings.
- Archaic. a means of defense; a bulwark.
verb (used with object), fenced, fenc·ing.
- to enclose by some barrier, establishing exclusive right to possession: to fence a farm.
- to separate by or as by a fence or fences (often followed by in, off, out, etc.): to fence off a corner of one’s yard; to fence out unwholesome influences.
- to defend; protect; guard: The president was fenced by bodyguards wherever he went.
- to ward off; keep out.
- Informal. to sell (stolen goods) to a fence.
- Nautical. to reinforce (an opening in a sail or the like) by sewing on a grommet or other device.
verb (used without object), fenced, fenc·ing.
- to practice the art or sport of fencing.
- to parry arguments; strive to avoid giving direct answers; hedge: The mayor fenced when asked if he would run again.
- (of a horse) to leap over a fence.
- Obsolete. to raise a defense.
- mend one’s fences, to strengthen or reestablish one’s position by conciliation or negotiation: One could tell by his superficially deferential manner that he was trying to mend his fences.
- on the fence, uncommitted; neutral; undecided: The party leaders are still on the fence.
- a structure that serves to enclose an area such as a garden or field, usually made of posts of timber, concrete, or metal connected by wire, netting, rails, or boards
- slang a dealer in stolen property
- an obstacle for a horse to jump in steeplechasing or showjumping
- machinery a guard or guide, esp in a circular saw or plane
- a projection usually fitted to the top surface of a sweptback aircraft wing to prevent movement of the airflow towards the wing tips
- mend one’s fences
- mainly US and Canadianto restore a position or reputation that has been damaged, esp in politics
- to re-establish friendly relations (with someone)
- on the fence unable or unwilling to commit oneself
- over the fence Australian and NZ informal unreasonable, unfair, or unjust
- sit on the fence to be unable or unwilling to commit oneself
- (tr) to construct a fence on or around (a piece of land, etc)
- (tr; foll by in or off) to close (in) or separate (off) with or as if with a fencehe fenced in the livestock
- (intr) to fight using swords or foils
- (intr) to evade a question or argument, esp by quibbling over minor points
- (intr) to engage in skilful or witty debate, repartee, etc
- (intr) slang to receive stolen property
- (tr) archaic to ward off or keep out
early 14c., “action of defending,” shortening of defens (see defense). Spelling alternated between -c- and -s- in Middle English. Sense of “enclosure” is first recorded mid-15c. on notion of “that which serves as a defense.” Sense of “dealer in stolen goods” is thieves’ slang, first attested c.1700, from notion of such transactions taking place under defense of secrecy. To be figuratively on the fence “uncommitted” is from 1828, perhaps from the notion of spectators at a fight, or a simple literal image: “A man sitting on the top of a fence, can jump down on either side with equal facility.” [Bartlett, “Dictionary of Americanisms,” 1848].
Also, hem in. Restrict or confine someone, as in He wanted to take on more assignments but was fenced in by his contract, or Their father was old-fashioned and the children were hemmed in by his rules. Both expressions transfer a literal form of enclosure to a figurative one. The first gained currency from a popular song in the style of a cowboy folk song by Cole Porter, “Don’t Fence Me In” (1944), in which the cowboy celebrates open land and starry skies. The variant is much older, dating from the late 1500s.
In addition to the idioms beginning with fence
- fence in
- fence with
- mend one’s fences
- on the fence
- straddle the fence