On the Fence – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Have you ever felt stuck in a decision, teetering between two options, unsure which to pick? Well, you’re not alone; you’re on the fence. No, this doesn’t mean you’re literally sitting atop an actual fence or anything. Let’s go through this phrase to find out what it really means. I’ll also share a few sentence examples to further explain what I mean.

Being on the Fence Meaning Explained

On the Fence Idiom Origin Meaning

When someone says they’re on the fence, they’re not talking about their latest balancing act or a strange gardening mishap. Instead, they’re expressing that they’re undecided or neutral about something.

They’re caught in the middle, unable to pick a side, like a spectator perched on a fence watching two sides of an argument. You might feel this way from a lack of courage or as a result of a personal situation that affects your decision. 

Years ago, after writing my first book, I was on the fence about whether to go the indie publishing route or endure the traditional side of it. I just couldn’t decide because both choices had pros and cons.

Origin and Etymology of on the Fence

On the Fence Ngram
On the fence usage trend.

The term on the fence comes from American English and dates back to the early 19th century. It’s a metaphorical expression that suggests the idea of sitting on the fence, not committing to either side of the fence. In this context, the fence is the decision.

This phrase was used frequently in political contexts where individuals or groups were undecided about which candidate or policy to support.

On the Fence Synonyms to Use

Any of these words and phrases will hold the same meaning in place of the phrase on the fence. Synonyms are also a great way to mix up your wordage so you don’t sound redundant.

  • Hum and haw
  • Undecided
  • Waver between
  • Ambivalent
  • Unsure
  • Torn
  • In two minds

On the Fence Examples in a Sentence

On the Fence Idiom Origin Meaning 1
  • When it came to choosing between pizza and pasta, our family was always divided and on the fence.
  • As for the new policy about public transit, the local community remains on the fence, awaiting more information.
  • Jane is on the fence about moving to a new city because there are many factors to consider.
  • The jury was on the fence about the defendant’s guilt, leading to a lengthy deliberation to ensure their verdict was a good one.
  • Even after all these years, I’m still on the fence about which publishing route to follow.
  • Despite the debate, I know a lot of voters are still on the fence about who to support in the upcoming election.
  • My best friend is on the fence about becoming a mother in this day and age, and I don’t blame her.

Jump the Fence!

Being on the fence doesn’t involve any physical balancing act. It’s just a mental equilibrium between options or decisions. The next time you can’t choose between the lesser of two evils, feel free to declare yourself on the fence. And store this info in your mind for later use because you should be able to confidently use this phrase after reading my quick guide! Be sure to have a look at my other helpful grammar guides and writing tips!

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered: