phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Worm fence

Posted by Smokey Stover on December 01, 2007

In Reply to: Warm fence posted by RRC on November 30, 2007

: : What does the phrase "warm fence" means?

: By Googling, I can't find any use of these two words together that is not literal. That is a fence that is literally warm, not cool, in a sunny spot.
: If this is not what you're seeing, perhaps you could supply some more information, context, etc.

Is there any chance, Portia, that you misread the phrase, and that it is really a "worm fence"? These were, and I imagine still are, a common feature of the North American agricultural landscape. I don't believe they still construct them, but I've seen many that fit the description. The farmers who owned them just called them rail fences. I did not find them ugly, by the way, as one noted Brit has done. I don't know what kind of fence the British use to enclose land.

Examples of the phrase from the OED are:
"1796 F. BAILY Jrnl. Tour N. Amer. 111 They place split logs angular-wise on each other making what they call a '*worm-fence' and which is raised about five feet high. 1833 T. HAMILTON Men & Manners Amer. 149 The worm fences and the freshness and regularity of the houses are sadly destructive of the picturesque. 1842 DICKENS Amer. Notes xiv, The primitive worm-fence is universal, and an ugly thing it is."

Other words for this variety of rail fence are snake-fence and zigzag fence. Cf. the OED:

"A fence made of roughly split rails or poles laid in a zigzag fashion; a worm or zigzag fence; = snake rail fence s.v. SNAKE n. 12a.
[Examples:] 1805 R. PARKINSON Tour Amer. I. i. 48 Snake-fences; which are rails laid with the ends of one upon the other, from eight to sixteen in number in one length. 1830 GALT Lawrie T. VII. i. 303 The American regions of stumps and stones, log-houses and snake-fences. 1844 MARRYAT Settlers in Canada 53 A herd of cattle were grazing on a portion of the cleared land; the other was divided off by a snake-fence..and was under cultivation. 1864 C. M. YONGE Trial II. 173 An untidy desolate-looking region, with a rude snake fence. 1887 I. R. Ranche Life Montana 61 They are called 'snake' fences because they don't go straight, but form an angle, where the poles overlap each other. 1904 C. G. D. ROBERTS Watchers of Trails 239 The snake fence of split rails which bounded the pasture. 1973 L. RUSSELL Everyday Life Colonial Canada ii. 33 In constructing a snake fence the rails of adjacent bays were overlapped at a wide angle... Such a fence was a zig-zag of bays."

Even if this was not the phrase you wanted, I think it's an interesting one.