Beyond the Pale


Sometime in my youth I became addicted to word origins and how most of us resort to metaphor or comparison  when we are absolutely intent on being certain our interlocutors understand us 100%. Philosopher Bryan Magee did his PHD dissertation work on this very topic I believe.

I remember my paternal grandfather’s fondness for the phrase “beyond the pale” when he intended “that would be an extreme action”.  When my father wanted to quit his secure full time job and open his own business, Pop declared taking that chance with his family would be beyond the pale given Dad’s current stable income and need to provide for 4 youngsters.

So, of course, I had to research what origins of said phrase was. The phrase “beyond the pale” dates back to the 13th or 14th century when the region in Ireland which was under English control was circumscribed by a boundary made of  stakes or fences. This boundary was known as the English Pale. Venturing outside of this boundary, beyond the pale, was to leave behind all the rules, institutions, and protection of England, which the English monarchy and citizens  considered tantamount with civilization itself.


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