What does “beyond the pale” mean?

Delve into the centuries-old usage of 'beyond the pale' as a metaphor for unacceptable behavior or actions, and explore its fascinating etymology and literary references.

Origin and Historical Context

Beyond the Pale is an idiom that has been in use for centuries.

Here are three brief definitions of the idiom:

  1. To be beyond the limits of acceptable behavior or thought.
  2. To be outside the bounds of what is considered normal or proper.
  3. To be unacceptable or improper.

Here are three example sentences that use the idiom:

  1. His behavior was beyond the pale, and he was asked to leave the party.
  2. The company’s treatment of its employees was beyond the pale.
  3. The politician’s remarks were beyond the pale, and many people were outraged.

Here are three synonyms of the idiom:

  1. Unacceptable
  2. Improper
  3. Out of bounds

Etymology of ‘Pale’

The word “pale” comes from the Latin word “palus,” which means “a stake or pole.” The Normans used wooden stakes to mark boundaries, and the term “pale” was used to describe the area within those boundaries.

Ireland’s English Pale

In Ireland, the English Pale was a part of Ireland that was under English rule from the late 12th century until the 16th century.

The Pale was an area around Dublin that was enclosed by a fence made of wooden stakes, and it was considered the only safe area for English settlers.

Expansion to Russia

The term “pale” was also used in Russia to describe the Pale of Settlement, which was an area where Jews were allowed to live during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Literary References

The phrase “beyond the pale” first appeared in print in John Harington’s The History of Polindor and Flostella in 1657.

The phrase was used to describe something that was outside the bounds of acceptable behavior.

Overall, the phrase “beyond the pale” has a long and interesting history, and it continues to be used today to describe behavior or actions that are unacceptable or improper.