What I Mean to Say

I can fend for myself. Well, sometimes. What I mean to say is that this is acceptable English usage.

I can fend off an attack. Well, sometimes. What I mean to say is that this, too, is acceptable, albeit different, English usage.

Screenshot of MW Dictionary defintion of "fend."

Archaically speaking, I can fend myself, although it would be more modern to defend myself. I can call on heaven to forfend something, if I insist on speaking archaically.

Screenshot of MW definition of "forfend."

But while English allows me to fend, defend, and forfend, I cannot unfend. Indeed, fend is a sadly limited verb. Consider these strange omissions in its range. . .

I can prorate, but not profend. Upsell and upend, but not upfend. Counteract and countersign, but not counterfend.

I can disarm, disembark, and discontinue, but not disfend. Revisit, return, and refund, but not refend. Misstep, mislead, and misbehave, but not misfend.

I can (in usage, at least, if not in fact) outwait, outthink, and outperform, but not outfend. Become, bestir, and befriend, but not befend.  Transact, transform, and transship, but not transfend.  Cochair, cosign, and cohabitate, but not cofend.

For goodness sake, I can underestimate but not underfend, and overeat but not overfend, although I don’t for the life of me see why not.

I (well, Someone Else, p’raps) can preordain, but not even God can prefend. Thus is fend seen to be the opposite of preempt: I cannot empt, but I can do it early.

It’s all a bit of a puzzle, although I’m sure there are good historical reasons for all these limits on fend, if only I knew them. But as I search for ways to use my virtual tiles in Scrabble®, it seems cruel to be a hostage to history. After all, the computer just played “un” on my “gazed,” and that’s ridiculous.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson), Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 6, p. 205 (1934)

Yeah! So back off, Scrabble® dictionary: I’m the master here. Cofenders is absolutely a word. What I mean to say is, “Fight me, fight my gang.”



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18 Responses to What I Mean to Say

  1. John Whitman says:

    English truly can be a strange language at times! And I might add, leaving its users to fend for themselves at times -especially if they start to second-guess themselves.

    John W

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    Part of a piece from the NYT:
    How I met my wife
    by Jack Winter
    Published 25 July 1994 – The New Yorker
    It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.
    I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way.
    I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I’d have to make bones about it since I was travelling cognito. Beknownst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn’t be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behavior would do.
    Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable. There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion.

  3. Here’s one for you: to unread. Can’t be done. Once you learn to read, you can’t unread a billboard or caption or …. this sentence.
    Should be a warning to children, along with recognizing hypocrisy, understanding irony, getting a Smart phone — there is just no going back.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – That’s what I thought when I saw “ungazed” appear on my Scrabble board: How can I unsee something? You make a good point about not going home again. It’s like learning to eat spicy foods. How can you enjoy meat-and-potato blandness after getting onto curries?

      • It’s the curse of having the best, in anything. Ruins you for anything less.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – I guess in some things we can enjoy them for what they are – tender (albeit bland) prime rib, for example – rather than lamenting what they’re not. But it’s also true that our tastes and standards change, sometimes irrevocably.

    • Marion says:

      Barbara: I too, have mused on the concept of not being able to unread. It’s fascinating how instant is our comprehension when we see a combination of letters. Unseeing is right up there with it too, Isabel. There’s a meme going around Facebook and other sites this last week called the chicken game. At the top is the title “Chicken Game”. The next line says “Don’t look at the chicken.” Immediately below that is a picture of a chicken. Under the chicken it says “GAME OVER”.

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Marion – LOL. Even more insidious/inevitable than “Don’t think about an elephant . . .”

  4. John Hatchard says:

    Offend might take offense at being left out of your ruminations on the word fend! And so perhaps might fender since you mentioned it cousin defend.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – Off-fend, eh? Sort of a “push off” communication? I omitted it only because I didn’t think of it – so, many thanks! As for suffixes – I see another blog in my future.

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