Saturday, November 24, 2007


I was watching an old crime movie last night, and one of the characters said, “I gotta fence some goods.” I know it means to sell some loot, but why fence? Lois/Traverse City, MI

The verb fence is usually connected with protection and disguise, thus reinforcing the idea of ill-gotten goods being concealed. Martin Mark-all, beadle of Bridewell, his defence and answere to the (Dekker's) belman of London by S. R. (also attributed to S. Rid) 1610: “To fence property, to sell anything that is stolne.”

The noun fence, meaning a receiver of stolen goods, is recorded in Memoirs of John Hall, 4th edition, 1708: “Fence, one that buys stoln goods.” It seems to be connected to a literal fence, a barrier to hide and protect things. Ulimately, it is connected to the word defence.

SIDEBAR: Fence music--Australian fences played by Jon Rose

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