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Beyond the Pale

Posted by James Briggs on January 23, 2003

In Reply to: Beyond the Pale posted by Shae on January 23, 2003

: : : : In one of your recent discussions of "trailer trash," the phrase "beyond the pale" was used. Can anyone say from whence it came?

: : : : "life is too uncertain to waste on quests of vane fortune when the language is the windmill which beckons tilting..."

: : : Would those vanes be the ones at the top of the windmill?

: : : "Beyond the pale" means, roughly, outside the picket fence, a pale being a stake. See discussion at the Word Detective's site,
: : : (link below).

: : or

: The Pale, in Ireland's case, was an earthen embankment rather than simply a wooden fence, and the term described both the structure and the area within. It encompassed an area much larger than just Dublin. See:

: Those within the Pale spoke English and obeyed English law. Those beyond the Pale were either heathen Irish or descendants of the original Cambro-Norman settlers who, although remaining loyal to the Crown, adopted Irish laws and customs and were, therefore, outside the limits of social convention.

In medieval times both The Pale of Ireland and the Pale of Calais existed. A Pale was the area over which the King of England had control. It was often little more than the area immediately around a town. All outside was regarded as full of savagery and barbarism. The word itself comes from the Latin "palum" meaning "stake". By evolution this came to mean "fence around a territory".

See also: the meaning and origin of 'Beyond the pale'.