Sitting on the Fence – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to say that you’re undecided on what to do? You could say that you’re “sitting on the fence” with your decision. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

If you’re “sitting on the fence,” it means you are between deciding on two outcomes. You are unsure about which way to go with your decision, and people pressure you to finalize your choice. It has political origins, but it often appears in our everyday lives to describe indecisiveness.

You could be sitting on the fence about your decision to buy a gas grill or a smoker. Or you could be sitting on the fence about the decision to abolish the police or fund them for new training programs. The weight of the decision can vary depending on the situation.

It can also mean that you’re intentionally “sitting on the fence” to avoid taking sides with either party involved in the decision-making process. If you’re “sitting on the fence,” then you refuse to engage in the activity involved with the other parties’ problems.

Example Usage

“I’m still sitting on the fence with my decision. To be honest, I don’t know which way I’m going to go with it. What do you think I should do?”

“I see you’re still sitting on the fence with your decision. What will it take to get you to come over to our side?”

“If you’re sitting on the fence, then take some time to do more research about your decision. Check with people you know about their experience with it before deciding for yourself.”

“Your sitting on the fence is starting to annoy everyone. We need your answer now, or we will leave without you.”

“There’s no reason for you to be sitting on the fence. You have all the information you need to decide, so do it now.”

“Are you still sitting on the fence? Make a list of pros and cons and decide which one offers you more value in your life.”

“We’re sitting on the fence with this one. It’s challenging to decide on the right candidate for the position. We’ll have to give you our decision in the morning.”

Origin

The expression “sitting on the fence” originates from the 1800s. It has roots in US politics, where politicians would “sit on the fence,” with the “Mugwumps” being the most famous for using the strategy.

The Mugwumps were a group of Republicans supporting the Democratic candidate in the 1884 election. The term originates from the Algonquin “Mugquomp,” translating to “important person” or VIP. However, it’s important to note the term was not used with respect but rather with derision.

Opponents described them as “sitting on the fence” with “their mug on one side and their wump on the other.”

Phrases Similar to Sitting on the Fence

  • Pussyfooting around.
  • Be in two minds.
  • Hard to take sides.

Phrases Opposite to Sitting on the Fence

  • I’m with you.
  • All in.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Sitting on the fence.

Ways People May Say Sitting on the Fence Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with sitting on the fence. In the case of this idiom, the fence is a decision. By sitting on the fence, you’re undecided about your choice.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Sitting on the Fence

You can use the phrase “sitting on the fence” to tell people that you’re undecided on something. It means that you’re unsure of which way you want to go with your decision, and you need more convincing to make a choice. The phrase suits professional and social use.

Use it at the office to tell your boss you’re on the fence about moving to the new department or staying where you are. You can use the expression at home to tell your partner you’re on the fence about the right color for the new drapes in the living room.

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