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or (especially British) self-defence

[self-di-fens, self-] /ˈsɛlf dɪˈfɛns, ˌsɛlf-/
the act of defending one's person when physically attacked, as by countering blows or overcoming an assailant:
the art of self-defense.
a claim or plea that the use of force or injuring or killing another was necessary in defending one's own person from physical attack:
He shot the man who was trying to stab him and pleaded self-defense at the murder trial.
an act or instance of defending or protecting one's own interests, property, ideas, etc., as by argument or strategy.
Origin of self-defense
Related forms
self-defensive, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for self-defence
Historical Examples
  • At the commencement of the quarrel he had been unarmed, but he had now seized this weapon in self-defence.

    An Old New Zealander T. Lindsay Buick
  • I do, sir; but I was struck, and was obliged to fight in self-defence.

    In School and Out Oliver Optic
  • Without taking into account whether the man is or is not responsible, still society has the right of self-defence.

  • A blow is not justifiable except in self-defence, or when all other means have failed.

    In School and Out Oliver Optic
  • The insurance companies were obliged in self-defence to prohibit their use in insured buildings.

  • He was ever conscious of self-defence on her side, of pained drawing back on his.

    Robert Elsmere Mrs. Humphry Ward
  • In one aspect this was a war of principles; in another, it was a war of self-defence.

  • He allowed them to retain their arms on the condition that they used them only in self-defence.

    The Vaudois of Piedmont John Napper Worsfold
  • Feeling the barrel of M. Fauvel's revolver touch his breast, Raoul in self-defence seized his own pistol, and prepared to fire.

    File No. 113 Emile Gaboriau
  • In self-defence therefore, we will deal with the Great Rope trick.

    Indian Conjuring L. H. Branson
British Dictionary definitions for self-defence


the act of defending oneself, one's actions, ideas, etc
boxing as a means of defending the person (esp in the phrase noble art of self-defence)
(law) the right to defend one's person, family, or property against attack or threat of attack by the use of no more force than is reasonable
Derived Forms
self-defensive, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for self-defence



1650s, "act of defending oneself," first attested in Hobbes, from self- + defense. In sports sense, first with reference to fencing (1728), then boxing (1820s).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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