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[self-di-fens, self-] /ˈsɛlf dɪˈfɛns, ˌsɛlf-/
the act of defending one's person when physically attacked, as by countering blows or overcoming an assailant:
the art of self-defense.
a claim or plea that the use of force or injuring or killing another was necessary in defending one's own person from physical attack:
He shot the man who was trying to stab him and pleaded self-defense at the murder trial.
an act or instance of defending or protecting one's own interests, property, ideas, etc., as by argument or strategy.
Also, especially British, self-defence.
Origin of self-defense
First recorded in 1645-55
Related forms
self-defensive, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for self-defence
Historical Examples
  • I am never successful in my little attempts at deception, even in self-defence.

    The Fortune Hunter Louis Joseph Vance
  • Good customs are universal and varied, like native chivalry and self-defence.

    Alarms and Discursions G. K. Chesterton
  • In what other manner could we ever study the art of self-defence?

    Laws Plato
  • This may have been because of a desire to please me, or in self-defence; I am inclined to think the latter.

    Kent Knowles: Quahaug Joseph C. Lincoln
  • But if it was done in self-defence it was no crime, and you must not and shall not suffer.

    The Eternal City Hall Caine
  • What I had done was partly in self-defence, and I did not consider it a crime.

    The Eternal City Hall Caine
  • And you, who know all this, how can you say that it is mere nonsense to talk of self-defence?

    Anabasis Xenophon
  • At the inquiry he would have, of course, to speak the truth in self-defence.

    A Set of Six Joseph Conrad
  • The glance was meant for Therese and assumed in self-defence.

    The Arrow of Gold Joseph Conrad
  • People do get killed sometimes when they get in one's way, but that's self-defence—you understand?'

    Victory Joseph Conrad
British Dictionary definitions for self-defence


the act of defending oneself, one's actions, ideas, etc
boxing as a means of defending the person (esp in the phrase noble art of self-defence)
(law) the right to defend one's person, family, or property against attack or threat of attack by the use of no more force than is reasonable
Derived Forms
self-defensive, adjective
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 self-defence



1650s, "act of defending oneself," first attested in Hobbes, from self- + defense. In sports sense, first with reference to fencing (1728), then boxing (1820s).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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