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fence with

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Avoid answering directly, try to evade, as in The mayor was very clever at fencing with the press about his future plans. This expression transfers the parry and thrust of fencing to a verbal exchange. [Second half of 1600s]

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“Was” is used for the indicative past tense of “to be,” and “were” is only used for the subjunctive past tense.

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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