beyond the pale

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From pale ‎(jurisdiction of an authority, territory under an authority's jurisdiction), suggesting that anything outside the authority's jurisdiction was uncivilized. The phrase was in use by the mid-17th century, and may be a reference to the general sense of boundary, but is often understood to refer specifically to the English Pale in Ireland. In the nominally English territory of Ireland, only the Pale fell genuinely under the authority of English law, hence the terms within the pale and beyond the pale. The boundary of the Ashdown Forest (a royal hunting forest) was also known as the Pale, consisting of a paled fence and a ditch inside, to allow deer to jump in, but not back out.

Prepositional phrase[edit]

beyond the pale

  1. Used other than as an idiom: see beyond,‎ pale.
    • 1812, Edward William Grinfield, The Nature and Extent of the Christian Dispensation with Reference to the Salvability of the Heathen, page 35,
      Are they to be placed like devils beyond the pale of all human charities, and to be denied all kindly and benevolent offices?
    • 2000, Raechelle Rubinstein, Beyond the Realm of the Senses: The Balinese Ritual of Kakawin Composition, page 103,
      [] but he was essentially a lone traveller in areas beyond the pale of human society.
    • 2012, David M. Emmons, Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845-1910, page 4,
      That they had evinced no desire to be Britons, and had made manifest their aversion by holding tenaciously to their Catholicism, only confirmed the wisdom of their consignment beyond the pale.
    • 2012, Tony Kushner, Kenneth Lunn, The Politics of Marginality: Race, the Radical Right and Minorities in Twentieth Century Britain, page 143,
      In addition it calls into question the common assumption that the holocaust destroyed British anti-Semitism or at least pushed it beyond the pale of respectability.
    • 2013, Heidi Ravven, The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will, unnumbered page,
      We can even discern the outlines of the hidden and disguised religious character of the argument, for the move that Broad makes is not so much to debate Spinoza but to put him beyond the pale of acceptable, legitimate philosophical opinion.
  2. (idiomatic, of a behaviour or person) Outside the bounds of morality, acceptable behaviour or good judgement, etc.
    • 1900, Arthur Conan Doyle, The Great Boer War, page 409,
      The very date which put them beyond the pale as belligerents was that which they seem to have chosen in order to prove what active and valiant soldiers they still remained.
    • 1951, William O. Douglas, quoted in 2013, Whitney Strub, Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right, page 43,
      “The teaching of methods of terror and other seditious conduct should be beyond the pale,” he continued, adding as an afterthought, “along with obscenity and immorality.”
    • 2012, Patricia Hewitt, 3: The Start of Labour's Long March:1985-1992, Dennis Kavanagh (editor), Philip Gould: An Unfinished Life, page 42,
      For most British voters – the people whom Labour claimed to represent – Labour was, quite simply, ‘beyond the pale’.

Usage notes[edit]

In otherwise non-idiomatic usage, the phrase is often accompanied by a metaphorical definition of pale ‎(jurisdictional domain).

Translations[edit]