Etymology
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fend (v.)
c. 1300, "defend, guard; protect; put up a fight; excuse or justify; forbid, bar," shortening of defend. From mid-14c. as "make a defense" and (usually with off (adv.)) "ward off, beat off, keep at a distance." Developed a meaning "make provision, give care" in Scottish English (16c.); hence to fend for oneself (1620s) "see to one's own defense." Related: Fended; fending.
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forfend (v.)
also forefend, late 14c., "to protect; to prohibit; to avert, fend off, prevent," a hybrid from for- + fend "to ward off." Archaic, if not obsolete.
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fence (n.)
early 14c., "action of defending, resistance; means of protection, fortification," shortening of defens (see defense). The same pattern also yielded fend, fender; and obsolete fensive "defensive" (late 16c.). 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].
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ward (v.)

Old English weardian "to keep guard, watch, protect, preserve," from Proto-Germanic *wardon "to guard" (source also of Old Saxon wardon, Old Norse varða "to guard," Old Frisian wardia, Middle Dutch waerden "to take care of," Old High German warten "to guard, look out for, expect," German warten "to wait, wait on, nurse, tend"), from PIE *war-o-, suffixed form of root *wer- (3) "perceive, watch out for."

French garder, Italian guardare, Spanish guardar are Germanic loan-words. Meaning "to parry, to fend off" (now usually with off) is recorded from 1570s. Related: Warded; warding.

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fender (n.)
late 13c., shortening of defender. Originally something hung over the side to protect the hull of a ship at a wharf, pier, etc. Of fireplaces since 1680s; of automobiles from 1919. Fender-bender "minor automobile accident" is from 1958.
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