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[fens] /fɛns/
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, fencing.
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, fencing.
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.
Origin of fence
1300-50; Middle English fens, aphetic for defens defense
Related forms
fencelike, adjective
outfence, verb (used with object), outfenced, outfencing.
refence, verb (used with object), refenced, refencing.
unfence, verb (used with object), unfenced, unfencing.
well-fenced, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for fence
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • If it will give you any pleasure it shall be done, though I am not at my best on the fence.

    Chains Elizabeth Baker
  • There's a cove I knows—a fence that is—as 'ud give me lots fur it.

    The Opal Serpent Fergus Hume
  • I have found borers in a few trees that were out in the grass near the fence.

    The Apple Various
  • He could lean on the fence and pull at his pipe to his heart's content.

    Stanford Stories Charles K. Field
  • Between the lawn and the road, a line of cedars in the fence row serves as a screen.

    Green Spring Farm Ross Netherton
British Dictionary definitions for 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
  1. (mainly US & Canadian) to restore a position or reputation that has been damaged, esp in politics
  2. to re-establish friendly relations (with someone)
on the fence, unable or unwilling to commit oneself
(Austral & NZ, informal) over the fence, unreasonable, unfair, or unjust
sit on the fence, to be unable or unwilling to commit oneself
(transitive) to construct a fence on or around (a piece of land, etc)
(transitive; foll by in or off) to close (in) or separate (off) with or as if with a fence: he fenced in the livestock
(intransitive) to fight using swords or foils
(intransitive) to evade a question or argument, esp by quibbling over minor points
(intransitive) to engage in skilful or witty debate, repartee, etc
(intransitive) (slang) to receive stolen property
(transitive) (archaic) to ward off or keep out
Derived Forms
fenceless, adjective
fencelike, adjective
Word Origin
C14 fens, shortened from defensdefence
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for fence

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].


mid-15c., "surround with a fence;" c.1500, "defend, screen, protect;" 1590s, "fight with swords;" the last from the noun in this sense (1530s); see fence (n.). Related: Fenced, fencing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for fence



A person or place that deals in stolen goods: but even big fences like Alphonso can get stuck/ The loot had disappeared and been handled by a fence (1700+)


: The clown that stole the Mona Lisa found it hard to fence (1610+)

Related Terms

go for the fences, on the fence

[all senses are shortenings of defence; in the case of criminal act, the notion is probably that of a secure place and trusty person, well defended]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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fence in Technology

1. A sequence of one or more distinguished (out-of-band) characters (or other data items), used to delimit a piece of data intended to be treated as a unit (the computer-science literature calls this a "sentinel"). The NUL (ASCII 0000000) character that terminates strings in C is a fence. Hex FF is also (though slightly less frequently) used this way. See zigamorph.
2. An extra data value inserted in an array or other data structure in order to allow some normal test on the array's contents also to function as a termination test. For example, a highly optimised routine for finding a value in an array might artificially place a copy of the value to be searched for after the last slot of the array, thus allowing the main search loop to search for the value without having to check at each pass whether the end of the array had been reached.
3. [among users of optimising compilers] Any technique, usually exploiting knowledge about the compiler, that blocks certain optimisations. Used when explicit mechanisms are not available or are overkill. Typically a hack: "I call a dummy procedure there to force a flush of the optimiser's register-colouring info" can be expressed by the shorter "That's a fence procedure".
[Jargon File]

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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fence in the Bible

(Heb. gader), Num. 22:24 (R.V.). Fences were constructions of unmortared stones, to protect gardens, vineyards, sheepfolds, etc. From various causes they were apt to bulge out and fall (Ps. 62:3). In Ps. 80:12, R.V. (see Isa. 5:5), the psalmist says, "Why hast thou broken down her fences?" Serpents delight to lurk in the crevices of such fences (Eccl. 10:8; comp. Amos 5:19).

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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Idioms and Phrases with fence
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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