verb (used with object), fenced, fenc·ing.

verb (used without object), fenced, fenc·ing.


    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 formsfence·like, adjectiveout·fence, verb (used with object), out·fenced, out·fenc·ing.re·fence, verb (used with object), re·fenced, re·fenc·ing.un·fence, verb (used with object), un·fenced, un·fenc·ing.well-fenced, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for mend one's fences



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 and Canadianto 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
over the fence Australian and NZ informal unreasonable, unfair, or unjust
sit on the fence to be unable or unwilling to commit oneself


(tr) to construct a fence on or around (a piece of land, etc)
(tr; foll by in or off) to close (in) or separate (off) with or as if with a fencehe fenced in the livestock
(intr) to fight using swords or foils
(intr) to evade a question or argument, esp by quibbling over minor points
(intr) to engage in skilful or witty debate, repartee, etc
(intr) slang to receive stolen property
(tr) archaic to ward off or keep out
Derived Formsfenceless, adjectivefencelike, adjective

Word Origin for fence

C14 fens, shortened from defens defence
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

Word Origin and History for mend one's fences



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

Idioms and Phrases with mend one's fences

mend one's fences

Improve poor relations; placate personal, political, or business contacts. For example, The senator always goes home weekends and spends time mending his fences. This metaphoric expression dates from an 1879 speech by Senator John Sherman in Mansfield, Ohio, to which he said he had returned “to look after my fences.” Although he may have meant literally to repair the fences around his farm there, media accounts of the speech took him to mean campaigning among his constituents. In succeeding decades the term was applied to nonpolitical affairs as well.


In addition to the idioms beginning with fence

  • fence in
  • fence with

also see:

  • mend one's fences
  • on the fence
  • straddle the fence
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.