Wednesday, October 24

For All Your Fencing Needs

I saw an ad in one of those coupon magazines that was telling me this particular company was the best for all my fencing needs, but it got me to wondering whether or not that's the accurate description of what the company sells. Not that I went to a prep school back east or anything, but my mind immediately thought about swordplay. Since fencing for yards and such is much newer than fencing for practicing with swords, I have to wonder what the best way to sell either should be.

OK, so this is very specific, and most of you don't care, but as a former English teacher, I am interested in the use of one word with two completely different meanings. When you search the term "fencing" in Google, the top results (web and image) are paid links to fence companies. However, in Google Images, the first 30 results are of people sword fighting. In the top 10 of the web search, the definition of fencing (swordplay) is the only result that isn't about fences. That's interesting, because Google has determined that when people search for fencing images, they are looking for sabres, while when they are searching for fencing websites, it's about buying a fence.

The video search is similar to images, with nine of my top ten being of people using the foil to fight one another. On Maps, it's again back to fence companies, and locally Bibb's and Big Jerry's refer to themselves as fencing companies.

Taking it even further, the online dictionary says that the #1 definition of fencing has to do with swords, while sword fighting is the #3 definition when the word "fence" is used. Basically, I'd have to assume fencing is generally more associated with swords than fence, while fence is more about surrounding your yard. Both can keep burglars away, I suppose.

So, officially, fence comes from "fens, shortened from defens defence," in the 1300s, and it wasn't used to describe an enclosure (also for defense of sorts) until the late 1500s. So if you ever time-travel back to when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and are in England, and mostly understand Middle English, you'd be advertising swords rather than an enclosure if you used either fencing or fence. Today, we pretty much know what you mean.

However, I have not yet found a fencing (sword) retailer in the area. I bet in England in 1500, you could get a sword made in every town, and now all you can get is some PVC that looks like wood to stick in your yard.