One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A soldier belonging to a British militia which could be called up only for service on home soil.
- ‘A cockney by birth, he had been apprenticed to an engraver and had only become a soldier as a volunteer in the Warwickshire fencibles (reserve cavalry) in the invasion scare of 1800.’
- ‘During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars the British regular army remained fairly small, but home defence forces such as yeomanry, volunteers, and fencibles proliferated.’
- ‘During the Napoleonic wars, the militia was supplemented by various ‘fencibles’, and after 1859 by the Rifle Volunteers.’
Middle English (in the sense ‘fit or suitable for defence’): shortening of defensible. Compare with fence, fend.
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