Aboard the eastbound Hollywood Boulevard bus I sighed in relief. Bugsy “Murder is my business” Beetlebaum turned out to be harmless. But who knew? A single woman has to fend for herself, I thought, kicking the steel tip of a stiletto-heeled shoe against the seat in front of me, lest – Heaven forfend – something untoward befall her. Wait. What? Why was I thinking in such antiquated language? I must have overdosed on Jane Austen. I had downloaded the complete works to my phone and lapped up great gobs of Mansfield Park on the way to meet Bugsy.
What does “fend” mean, anyway? I wondered. I checked the OED Online. Fend comes from shortening defend and means ‘to ward or keep off, turn aside, keep out or at a distance.’ Yeah, that’s what I have to do at times. David Livingstone and Charles Livingstone wrote in 1865 in their Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi that they took “a spoonful [of brandy] in hot water..to fend off a chill and fever.” Me too. But I skip the water.
Defend is from Latin de- ‘Off, away’ aside’: as dēclīnāre ‘to turn aside, decline n.’; dēducĕre ‘to lead away, deduce v.’; dēfendĕre ‘to ward off, defend.’
And forfend? Sayeth the OED:
Etymology: Old English for-… prefixed to verbs, giving the additional sense of ‘away’, ‘off’ [+ fend]
Even though the prefix for- has the same meaning as the Latin prefix de-, forfend has a slightly different meaning: ‘to forbid, prohibit’ or ‘to avert, keep away or off, prevent.’
Speaking of defense, what about fencing, both the rapier and the chain-link kind? I’ll worry about that later, I thought, First I have to see how Fanny Price forfends Henry’s advances without giving offence.