- "One born outside of the city wall of Dublin. The large encircling wall was called the pale, hence the origin of the term. Also a term indicating one who is acting in an unreasonable fashion, (in Ireland reason is restricted to within Dublin, but thats a myth :p)
- siren.beyong the pale,www.everything2.com, (July 2000).
Another term with slightly more derogatory connotations is Culchie, but if you ask them they would tell you that you had been talking to some Jackeen and to pay no heed."
During the 15th and 16th centuries the dominions of the English in Ireland, Scotland, and France gave rise to the "boundary" sense of pale designating a particular geographical region with clear limits. Hence, beyond the pale referred to any area outside this controlled province. Lands beyond these `English Pales' were considered uncivilized, and populated by barbarians. To journey outside of that boundary, beyond the pale, was to leave behind all the rules and institutions of English society and people looking to escape British domination were said to leap the pale when they passed the area's boundaries.
Over time, pale developed an additional metaphorical sense denoting the confines within which one is privileged or sheltered; as from censure. So, to be beyond the pale in this manner was to be outside the limits of protections. Today, the phrase is most frequently used to describe behavior regarded as appalling or coarse, as in:
- "He's out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field commanding troops."
- General Corman, Apocalypse Now, 1979.
"Beyond the pale," meaning to be outside the bounds of propriety or good taste, can be linked back to ancient England, armies and things like that. Writers enjoy the use of figurative speech to get at complex ideas. Oftentimes they are created to by-pass the language that developed in more constrained circles. Many today use the phrase 'beyond the pale' without knowing that the 'pale' was the area that encircled Dublin under English jurisdiction during the colonization of Ireland. Some etymologists say the seeds for the metaphor for the limit between what is legitimate and what is indecent can be found in one of William Shakespeare's earliest historical plays Henry VI. At this moment in the drama the hero of the tale, Talbot finds himself trapped; not literally trapped in this case since the French Dauphin's army is just approaching, he has not yet had enough time to set up fortifications against a counter-siege:
- He fables not; I hear the enemy.
Out, some light horsemen, and peruse their wings.
O, negligent and heedless discipline!
How are we parked and bounded in a pale,
A little herd of England's timorous deer,
Mazed with a yelping kennel of French curs!
If we be English deer, be then in blood;
Not rascal-like to fall down with a pinch,
But rather, moody-mad and desperate stags,
Turn on the bloody hounds with heads of steel
And make the cowards stand aloof at bay.
Sell every man his life as dear as mine,
And they shall find dear deer of us, my friends.
God and Saint George, Talbot and England's right,
Prosper our colours in this dangerous fight!
King Henry IV, part 1; Act 4 scene 2
The English pale in 14th century France was the territory of Calais, the last English possession in that country. The most recent example of pales with respect to certain districts and provinces was the Pale of Settlement. it was an obligatory requirement for Russian Jews to reside in pales from 1791 up until the Revolution in 1917. This institution is a translation of chertá osédlosti meaning "pale (boundary) of settlement".
Another famous one is the Pale in Ireland established after England's invasion of the country in 1172. Referred to in the introductory citation, it was that part of the country over which England had express authority. It changed from time to time, but was an area of numerous counties centered on Dublin. The first mention of the Irish Pale was in a document dated around 1446. Though there was an effort later in the century to surround the Pale by a bank and ditch, it was never finished and "there never was a literal fence around it" says one source.
Modern figurative phrases analogous to the idea of being beyond the pale would be off-the-wall, outside the bounds of morality, good behavior or judgment; as in unacceptable; outside agreed standards of decency, in bad taste. Indecorous would be a good synonym as are unseemly, improper, indelicate, crude, vulgar, tasteless, rude, discourteous, impolite, gross,boorish, churlish, uncouth, barbaric, barbarous, unrefined, and unpolished. The earliest known example of the idiom use as a metaphor appeared in A Legend of Montrose by Sir Walter Scott published 1819:
- So much had been written and said on either side concerning the form of church government, that it had become a matter of infinitely more consequence in the eyes of the multitude than the doctrines of that gospel which both churches had embraced. The Prelatists and Presbyterians of the more violent kind became as illiberal as the Papists, and would scarcely allow the possibility of salvation beyond the pale of their respective churches.
"I look upon you, sir, as a man who has placed himself beyond the pale of society, by his most audacious, disgraceful, and abominable public conduct."
Quite a passage of time occurs between Shakespeare's and Scott's use of the phrase. One expert from World Wide Words explains that the expression may have been used earlier than Sir Walter Scott, "but it surely doesn't date back to the period of the Irish Pale, or anywhere near. It is often said that it does come directly from that political enclosure, but the three-century gap renders that very doubtful indeed. The idea behind it is definitely the same, though."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer © 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992xrefer