Word/Phrase Of The Day 3-17-2017

Beyond The Pale


“Beyond the pale,” an expression used to describe outrageous behavior, originated in Ireland in the 14th century. The Pale was the area of Ireland under heavy British control. People living in areas outside it were considered wild and outlandish.


From pale(jurisdiction of an authority, territory under an authority’s jurisdiction), suggesting that anything outside the authority’s jurisdiction was uncivilized. The phrase was in use by the mid-17th century, and may be a reference to the general sense of boundary, but is often understood to refer specifically to the English Pale in Ireland. In the nominally English territory of Ireland, only the Pale fell genuinely under the authority of English law, hence the terms within the pale and beyond the pale. The boundary of the Ashdown Forest (a royal hunting forest) was also known as the Pale, consisting of a paled fence and a ditch inside, to allow deer to jump in, but not back out.

This ‘pale’ is the noun meaning ‘a stake or pointed piece of wood’, a meaning now virtually obsolete except as used in this phrase, but still in use in the associated words ‘paling’ (as in paling fence) and ‘impale’ (as in Dracula movies).