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A fence (barrier)


The original meaning is "the act of defending", from Middle French defens (see defence), adopted in the 14th century. The sense "enclosure" arises in the mid 15th century. Also from the 15th century is use as a verb in the sense "to enclose with a fence". The generalized sense "to defend, screen, protect" arises ca. 1500. The sense "to fight with swords (rapiers)" is from the 1590s (Shakespeare).



fence (plural fences)

  1. A thin, human-constructed barrier which separates two pieces of land or a house perimeter.
    • 1865, {}}|Horatio Alger}}, Paul Prescott's Charge - Chapter XVII,
      There was a weak place in the fence separating the two inclosures
    • 2013 June 8, “The new masters and commanders”, The Economist, volume 407, number 8839, page 52: 
      From the ground, Colombo’s port does not look like much. Those entering it are greeted by wire fences, walls dating back to colonial times and security posts. For mariners leaving the port after lonely nights on the high seas, the delights of the B52 Night Club and Stallion Pub lie a stumble away.
  2. A middleman for transactions of stolen goods.
  3. The place whence such a middleman operates.
  4. Skill in oral debate.
  5. The art or practice of fencing.
  6. A guard or guide on machinery.
  7. (figuratively) A barrier, for example an emotional barrier.


  • (middleman): pawn
  • (place where a middleman operates): pawn shop

Derived terms[edit]


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See also[edit]


fence (third-person singular simple present fences, present participle fencing, simple past and past participle fenced)

  1. (transitive) to enclose, contain or separate by building fence
    • Shakespeare
      O thou wall! [] dive in the earth, / And fence not Athens.
    • Shakespeare
      a sheepcote fenced about with olive trees
    • 1856, George A. Smith, The Saints Should Divest Themselves of Old Traditions,
      Here are twenty acres of land, and it is all you can properly farm, unless you have more help than yourself. Now fence and cultivate it, and you can make an abundant living.
  2. (transitive) to defend or guard
    • Milton
      To fence my ear against thy sorceries.
  3. (transitive) to engage in the selling or buying of stolen goods
  4. (intransitive, sports) to engage in (the sport) fencing
    • 1921, Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche,
      Challenges are flying right and left between these bully-swordsmen, these spadassinicides, and poor devils of the robe who have never learnt to fence with anything but a quill.
  5. (intransitive, equestrianism) to jump over a fence


  • (to sell or buy stolen goods): pawn