Rio 2016

Why Is Fencing Called 'Fencing' and Not 'Sword Fighting'?

While swimming, track, and gymnastics are probably the first few sports that come to mind when you think of the Summer Olympics, the Games also bring lesser-known sports like field hockey, handball, and fencing into millions of living rooms around the world. And now, with high levels of interest around fencing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, some viewers are wondering how the sport got its peculiar name. 

Specifically, why is fencing called fencing and not just sword fighting? Turns out it's a matter of history and, unsurprisingly, the bizarre workings of the English language. As explained by a Quora thread on the subject, the name is basically derived from the word defense, which if you think about it, makes a lot of sense. Here are the full answers:

As you can see, the name "fencing" is much less mysterious than, say, those big circular bruises on Michael Phelps, or why athletes bite their gold medals, or why medalists don't receive flowers on the podium in Rio, among other Rio-related head-scratchers

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the weapons used in fencing also have specific names: the foil, the épée, and the sabre. Perhaps that's another reason why it's not called sword fighting; although, sabre fighting sounds pretty damn cool. 

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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and wishes he had to coordination to get into fencing. Send news tips to and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.