Fend for yourself

To “fend for yourself” means to meet your own needs by yourself.

Today's story: Wild horses
Explore more: Lesson #263
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Fend for yourself

Today’s expression is to “fend for yourself,” and this is another expression that includes a word that is not used outside the expression. You almost never say “fend” in any other context. But to fend for yourself means, to meet your own needs by yourself.

Here’s how you heard it earlier. Przewalski’s horses were almost extinct before conservationists began a captive-breeding program. In a captive-breeding program, a small number of surviving members of a species are brought into a zoo and they are bred, meaning that scientists oversee the mating process and (hopefully) birth of new members of the species. After enough time goes by, and after the population grows, scientists can then begin thinking about releasing some of the animals back into the wild. That is what they did with Przewalski’s horses.

But it’s always a bit of a gamble, right? It’s one thing to survive in captivity, with a human providing food and possibly shelter, and with no predators nearby. It’s another for the animals to have to survive in the wild, with no protection or assistance from humans. When they get into the wild, they have to fend for themselves. They have to meet their own needs without assistance. You might reasonably ask, “Will they be able to fend for themselves?” Will they be able to ward off predators? Will they be able to find enough food? Will they mate if they’re not confined to a small space? To ask, “Will they be able to fend for themselves?” is to ask, “Will they be able to meet their own needs without assistance?”

Most animals will care for their young for a short period of time before the youngest members of the species have to fend for themselves. But some birds have to fend for themselves shortly after hatching from their eggs. Some birds hatch with their eyes open and are able to fly out of the nest within two days. They are able to find their own food and build their own nest two days after seeing this earth for the first time. That’s pretty incredible; most other species need at least a few years before they can fend for themselves.

That is the serious way of using “fend for yourself.” When we use it to describe people, it’s often in a light-hearted way.

It’s graduation time, and that normally signals the time when younger members of our own species get ready to fend for themselves. After eighteen or so years of having free laundry service, free meal preparation, free rent, the proud members of the graduating class of 2020 are going to have to learn how to fend for themselves. They’ll have to learn all the settings and buttons on a typical washing machine. Perhaps they’ll learn to prepare meals using something other than the microwave. No, maybe that’s asking too much. You can still fend for yourself by using only the microwave—if your needs are relatively simple.

If you’ve been married for a long time, and you’re used to sharing household duties with your spouse, you might joke that you’ll have to fend for yourself when your spouse goes away for a few days without you.

A more serious way of using the term might be in the context of a widow or a widower. (A widow, by the way, is a woman whose husband has died; a widower is a man whose wife has died.) You might say, with a little concern, that after a long marriage, a widow might struggle to fend for herself. An elderly person who has always shared household duties—meal prep, bill paying, transportation, social life, household chores—might struggle to fend for himself or herself after the death of a spouse.

JR’s song of the week

The song of the week, selected by JR, is “If the World Was Ending,” by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels. JR tells me that this is the first hit by JP Saxe, but that Julia Michaels is a famous singer. She definitely has a good voice. This is an example of a duet, where two singers have equal importance in the song. “If the World Was Ending,” by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels.

See you next time!

Can we agree to forgive the slight error in the song’s title? I thought so! You’ve survived yet another Plain English lesson—good for you! Remember to check out our new web site on Monday, June 1, 2020. No rest for the weary, though, we’ll have a new lesson out that same morning. See you then.

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Story: Wild horses