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It was upon the evening of this memorable Sunday that Sir Everard entered the library, where he narrowly missed surprising our young hero as he went through the guards of the broadsword with the ancient weapon of old Sir Hildebrand, which, being preserved as an heirloom, usually hung over the chimney in the library, beneath a picture of the knight and his horse, where the features were almost entirely hidden by the knight’s profusion of curled hair, and the Bucephalus which he bestrode concealed by the voluminous robes of the Bath with which he was decorated.

Please help me understand correctly the above sentence from Waverley by Sir Walter Scott.

…went through the guards of the broadsword…

Does it mean he put his hand through the guards of the sword, that is he seized it by the hilt? Or simply he examined the guards of the sword without touching them?

  • It seems to me that more context would help differentiate between the two proposed interpretations. – Hot Licks Jan 6 '17 at 13:45
  • This is a good one. At first glance I thought it meant either he cut through the guard (the piece between the blade and the handle that keeps your fingers intact), or that he fought through some people called "guards of the broadsword", or that broke someone's defensive stance (that someone using a broadsword). Only after re-reading it 5 or 6 times did it finally make sense. – coteyr Jan 6 '17 at 17:49
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    For surrounding context of the quote, the whole text is available in Project Gutenberg's copy of Waverly. – SevenSidedDie Jan 7 '17 at 1:09
  • To accept an answer, which means the one that helped you the most, click on the gray checkmark beneath the bottom arrow. It should appear green, and that will be a signal to users that the asker is happy, and agrees which is the best answer. There's no real competition though, is there? – Mari-Lou A Jan 22 '17 at 12:18
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Even with the context you provided, and being a native speaker, that sentence tripped me up a bit too, mostly because it's employing a unfamiliar sense of the word guard (which would have been more familiar to readers at the time Scott wrote Waverly).

So I'll tell you both what the word means and how I puzzled it out, which might help you in similar situations in the future.

First, to answer your question directly, in this context, guards means:

the posture of defence or readiness in fencing, boxing, cricket, etc.

Collins sense 20

The hints that this is the sense being employed are that the kid is going through the guards with a weapon, and that weapon usually hangs over the chimney (in the selfsame study), and the nephew was surprised at the entrance of his uncle, all of which tell us it is likely the kid took the sword off the wall and was practicing fencing with it.

In particular, he was practicing the guards of that kind of weapon; guards here meaning the defensive positions in fencing, similar to the images below (though these guards are specific to the longsword, not the broadsword as in the story):

14 essential long-sword guard positions image credit: Pinterest

And, in case it's not clear to non-native speakers, through here is used in the sense of "from A to Z"; there is a fixed series of guards (as in the illustration above), and the kid was practicing each, one after another: he went through the series.

In short, the kid was play-fighting with the family's heirloom sword when his uncle walked in and nearly caught him.

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Broadswords varied a lot, and the guard protecting the hand changed over time from simple cross bar to ones that came down to protect the hand. The more elaborate ones had loops and other embellishments which were used to trap the enemies blade or in some cases as sword breakers.

I found with broadsword the more elaborate the guard was the harder is was to use. I suspect that was because i preferred a hand and half sword and had prior sword fencing skills in epee and sabre. It was easy to catch your clothing or your own wrist with the fancy guards which im sure would go away with more practice with that style and weight of blade.

You might find that phrase implies the hero tried to block a blade with the guard ( perfectly possible ) and mistimed it so the enemy blade went through the guard. At that point so long as it's not on your fingers you could try a lock technique to trap their blade and disarm them, the instinct is to pull away, you have to train yourself through your natural instinct.

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    While somewhat interesting, Dan Bron's answer makes far more sense. In the passage "Sir Everard entered the library, where he narrowly missed surprising our young hero as he went through the guards of the broadsword", it would be possible to interpret the "he" in "he went through" as being Sir Everard, but it makes a lot more sense as it being the young hero who was going through something. – AndyT Jan 6 '17 at 14:48
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    You may find that Dan Bron's explanation makes a lot more sense. He seems to have found a meaning of "Guard" that you miss and that really fits better. – TomTom Jan 6 '17 at 16:51

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