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At times, I randomly marvel at the versatility of certain words. This week, "fence" grabbed my attention.

A fence can be a wooden or metal structure around your house that keeps your dog or mini pet pig from bounding out of the yard. The word is derived from a shortened form of "defense," presumably when fences were built to defend against marauders.

Later, the word added a verb form, "to fence," which means to put a fence around.

The verb form also came to mean "to fight with swords." Fencers use foils or epees. (Those who do crossword puzzles are familiar with those words.)

Around the 1700s, fence became slang for either a person who finds uses for stolen goods or the action of selling a stolen item. The writers at the Online Etymological Dictionary say that the phrase came from the way those transactions were carried out under the "defense of secrecy." Slang can be complex.

And we use "fence" in idioms. Someone on the fence isn't literally sitting on one because that could hurt. We use it to mean someone who can't decide on what side of an issue to be.

"Bound" is another busy word. You may be headed in a certain direction, such as college-bound or southbound.

Bound can be something likely to occur.

I'm bound to be the last one chosen for kickball.

Bound can mean determined.

I'm bound to get a job as a beer taster.

Bound can be the past tense of "bind." Hands are bound and books are bound.

As a noun, bound in the plural means the boundary or limits of a place.

"In bounds" or "out of bounds" in sports connotes whether the ball is in play or not.

Out of bounds has migrated from sports to social life. If a tipsy guest at your party is saying inappropriate things, you may tell him, "Hey, pal, you're out of bounds!"

And I'll just go ahead and say it: Bound also can mean "constipated." I'm unsure which word is the euphemism, though.

When I looked up "fence" in the dictionary, I realized that "foil" is also a well-rounded word. Foil can be the aluminum sheet you use to line your baking pans. Quite some time ago, it was made of tin, which is why lots of people still call it "tinfoil."

Foil can be a fencing sword. (Do you feel like you read that somewhere recently?)

A foil's attributes can provide contrast to another item. A hydrofoil is a vessel that skims the water's surface.

As a verb, foil means to thwart some activity. Bad guy Dick Dastardly of the cartoon Wacky Races often said, "Curses, foiled again!"

These words I have raved about are child's play compared to "run," the word that the editors at Oxford English Dictionary have determined is the most adaptable of all.

Just the verb form of "run" has 645 meanings, says Peter Gilliver, the OED lexicographer working on the letter R. (Putting that on a resume would be fun.)

"Run" as a noun or part of a phrase adds hundreds more.

You can run a fever. Blue eyes can run in the family. Your car can't run long on empty. There can be a run on the bank. You can run an article in the newspaper. A run in your stocking can be irritating. You can run with an idea or with the football. You can run a risk or run a bar tab.

You get the idea.

I hope "run" works on commission.


Between you and whom?

The misuse of "between you and I" has to rank among the most common grammatical errors. I suppose people hear it so often they figure it must be correct.

People might use this one incorrectly because it sounds a little more formal or confidential.

The phrase should be "between you and me."

Explaining why requires scary grammatical words I don't like using. But "between" is a preposition, and prepositions come before items called objective pronouns, the item that has something done to it. (Subjective pronouns perform the action. They are the subject of the sentence.)

Wrong: Just between you and I, if this meeting goes on much longer I will fall asleep.

Right: Just between you and me, if this meeting goes on much longer I will fall asleep.

Don't even think about those grammar terms. Next time you're deciding whether to use "I" or "me," remove the other person from the sentence and think "between me." Doesn't it sound better than "between I"?

Sources:, Online Etymological Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Oxford Dictionaries, American Heritage Dictionary, The New York Times.

ActiveStyle on 06/04/2018

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