Thursday, November 01, 2007

Beyond the Pale

Vlad the Impaler


Thad: Harry Reid's letter about Rush Limbaugh described Rush's statements as "beyond the pale." What's that supposed to mean and where did it come from?

Beyond the pale means outside the limits of acceptable behaviour, something that is seriously inappropriate or improper.

Pales were stakes or posts used to construct a fence or enclosing barrier of any material [Latin palum]. By extension, a pale was a district or territory within determined bounds, or subject to a particular jurisdiction; it was a safe, civilized haven--perhaps the boundaries of church property or of a shire’s footprint. Outside that pale lurked danger and potential lawlessness beyond anyone’s jurisdiction.

There were a few historically famous Pales, but they don’t seem to have been necessary for this phrase to arise.

In heraldry, a pale was a vertical band in the middle of a shield. Other meanings for the noun pale included

• pallor
• a small plug in a barrel
• a cheese-scoop
• a baker’s shovel
• a decorative stripe on clothing
• light-colored ale
• chaff

The adjective pale came from the Latin word pallidum, pale.


SIDEBAR: Beyond the Pale, an Irish music band

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