Why Is Fencing Called Fencing?

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Weird question, but I’m sure everyone’s wondered this before. I mean a fence is a fence, what does that have to do with swords? Well the answer is actually quite simple.

Fencing can look like someone throwing up some wood around their garden, or it can look like two beekeepers absolutely going at it with a deadly weapon in hand. So if they’re both English words then why are they so confusing? 

Well we’d have to look a little into the history of fencing to find where the name came from.

Fencing = defense + defending

Why Is Fencing Called Fencing?

So really why is fencing called fencing? Well, think of it as saying “defens-ing”. Fencing is a sport about defending yourself. So, fencing is called fencing, because it derives from the term “defense”. Way back when fencing first started, it was called “defensa” in Latin, and fencing schools were “schools of defense”. 

Simple, right?

Language has a weird way of changing, and words quickly change into other words over years. You can almost say fencing is just a way of mixing the different ways of saying defending in each language. 

Fencing has always been around, even ancient Egyptians used to duel with blades of all kinds!

But when Europeans started to teach swordplay, and evolve what was once just savage combat into an actual art, sword fighting turned into a culture. Rule books were made, etiquette was established and even schools were made.

These schools had all kinds of names, but each had the same purpose; to teach defense, or how to defend yourself with a weapon. Typically the rapier, and longswords were used, but in later years the beloved sabre, epee, and foil came in. 

A lot of these schools were called schools of defense. These schools were mostly for the military at first but became a normal practice for a lot of people, and fencing even became illegal for a while. 

The Word Fencing

So let’s trace “fencing” all the way back to its origin. 

  1. It started in Latin “defensa”, which meant “protection”.
  2. This turned into “defens” in Old French.
  3. Then the English changed that to “fens” (which was kind of stolen from the French).
  4. After so many years of change in language, we now have fence

The Name Fencing And The Olympics.

Although fencing was never originally in the ancient Olympics, sword fighting in all forms has always been renowned worldwide. We can even see ancient Egyptians fighting with sticks in paintings.

However, since the birth of the new age Olympics, fencing has always been around. In fact, the Olympics could potentially be what made the term “fencing” so popular.

Fencing and the Olympics have always gone hand in hand. Since the first modern Olympics in 1896, individual fencers could be seen competing for those sweet gold medals. The first events seen were foil and sabre, as épée was canceled for an unknown reason, and team fencing was introduced in later years.

The Name Fencing Today

Fencing all around the world is now called fencing. It’s a renowned sport with a specific set of rules that must be followed.  

Today’s “fencing” has really made progress from the good old “defensing” days.

Fighters never used protective gear, target areas, and there was definitely no wire back then that told you if you landed hits or not. Just good old stab wounds in the neck, and pink dye on your shirt, which is actually why fencers wear white. 

New techniques and ways to attack (like the flick) are being taught, and new gear is being introduced every day. So it’s definitely hard to not recognize fencing as its own thing, rather than just sword fighting.

But no matter what you want to call it, sword fighting and fencing will always be around, and always be in a true prodigy’s heart.

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