Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beyond the pale

An instructive linguistic aside on the expression "beyond the pale" in a Huffington Post article (by Chris Weigant) on Rick Warren:

...Before I attempt to answer, I have to insert a little linguistic history here. Because the use of the word "pale" in that last question is in no way related to any sort of description of color. "Pale" in this instance means "fence." The same root word gives us "palisade." Pale has been used this way since Middle English was spoken, to describe a fence of stakes erected to keep the barbarians out. "Beyond the castle walls" would be a direct equivalent. The concept was used more recently in Ireland, where the area around Dublin (which the English held) was known simply as "The Pale," which kept the "wyld Irysh" out.

Inside the pale, in other words, is civilization and polite society. Outside the pale is barbarism and savagery....

The Ireland Guide (2000) published by the Irish Tourist Board says that "Dundalk stood at the northernmost edge of the English stronghold area known as the Pale; beyond this point the 'wyld Irysh' chieftains ruled, at least until the Plantation of Ulster."