Which Word Wednesday: Epee vs. Foil

By January 4, 2012 language No Comments

Over the Christmas holiday, I got to visit with my honorary niece (hey Miss Hannah!) who is home from college. She mentioned that she is giving the fencing team a go, and that led to a discussion about the swords. Both épée and foil are common crossword puzzle answers, so I was familiar with the terms and asked which she was using . . . but neither of us knew the difference, so I said I would have to look them up.

Hence, today’s Which Word Wednesday duel (pun intended), the match up between épée and foil. Here are the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

épée :: noun
a sharp-pointed dueling sword, designed for thrusting and used, with the end blunted, in fencing

foil :: noun
a light fencing sword without cutting edges but with a button on its point

Ron Evans gives us more detail in his The Artful Nuance: “An épée is a fencing or dueling sword having a bowl-shaped guard (to protect the hand), a rigid thirty-five-inch blade” and a foil is a weapon “resembling an épée but weighing less and having a flat guard and a more flexible blade.”1

From these sources we can summarize the differences as follows: The épée has a rigid blade with a bowl-shaped guard whereas the foil has a flexible blade with a flat guard.

What’s my WWW verdict? Whether it’s an épée or a foil . . . on guard!

What’s your verdict? Did you know the difference between an épée and a foil? Have you ever participated in a fencing match? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Ron Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 87.

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