fence

Definitions

General English

Agriculture

  • noun a barrier put round a field, either to mark the boundary or to prevent animals entering or leaving
  • verb to put a fence round an area of land

Construction

  • A straight-edge guide mounted parallel to a saw blade to guide a cant as it passes through the saw.

Law

  • noun somebody who receives and sells stolen goods
  • verb to receive stolen goods to sell

Military

  • noun a barrier made of vegetation, wire or wood, which encloses an area of ground and is designed to control or prevent access

Real Estate

  • noun a structure erected to enclose an area and act as a barrier, especially one made of wood or with posts and wire
  • verb to enclose an area or bar a gap by erecting a fence

Slang

  • verb (to act as) a receiver of or dealer in stolen goods. The word was generally considered slang until the 1960s; there being no equivalent shorter than the definition above. Fence is now a universally understood term. It is at least 350 years old, apparently originating as a shortening of ‘defence’, although the precise relationship to that word is unclear.

Sports

  • verb to fight using a slender sword, formerly in combat, now as a competitive sport

Origin & History of “fence”

Fence is short for defence, and indeed until the 16th century meant ‘defence’ (‘Yet, for (that is, despite) the fence that he could make, she struck it from his hand’, Felon Sowe Rokeby 1500). Of its present-day meanings, ‘enclosing structure’ (originally a ‘defence’ against intruders) and ‘sword-fighting’ (originally the use of a sword for ‘self-defence’, now used only as a verb) developed in the 16th century. The sense ‘dealer in stolen property’ came along in the 17th century; it arose from the notion that such transactions are carried out under the cover, or ‘defence’, of secrecy.

Similarly, fend (13th c.) and fender (15th c.) came by loss of the initial syllable from defend.
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