beyond the pale


  1. a stake or picket, as of a fence.
  2. an enclosing or confining barrier; enclosure.
  3. an enclosed area.
  4. limits; bounds: outside the pale of his jurisdiction.
  5. a district or region within designated bounds.
  6. (initial capital letter) Also called English Pale, Irish Pale. a district in eastern Ireland included in the Angevin Empire of King Henry II and his successors.
  7. an ordinary in the form of a broad vertical stripe at the center of an escutcheon.
  8. Shipbuilding. a shore used inside to support the deck beams of a hull under construction.

verb (used with object), paled, pal·ing.

  1. to enclose with pales; fence.
  2. to encircle or encompass.

  1. beyond the pale, beyond the limits of propriety, courtesy, protection, safety, etc.: Their public conduct is certainly beyond the pale.


  1. lacking brightness of colour; whitishpale morning light
  2. (of a colour) whitish; produced by a relatively small quantity of colouring agent
  3. dim or wanthe pale stars
  4. feeblea pale effort
  5. Southern African a euphemism for White


  1. to make or become pale or paler; blanch
  2. (intr often foll by before) to lose superiority or importance (in comparison to)her beauty paled before that of her hostess


  1. a wooden post or strip used as an upright member in a fence
  2. an enclosing barrier, esp a fence made of pales
  3. an area enclosed by a pale
  4. a sphere of activity within which certain restrictions are applied
  5. heraldry an ordinary consisting of a vertical stripe, usually in the centre of a shield
  6. beyond the pale outside the limits of social convention


  1. (tr) to enclose with pales

early 14c., from Old French paile “pale, light-colored” (12c., Modern French pâle), from Latin pallidus “pale, pallid, wan, colorless,” from pallere “be pale, grow pale,” from PIE *pel- (2) “pale” (see pallor). Pale-face, supposed North American Indian word for “European,” is attested from 1822.


early 13c. (c.1200 in Anglo-Latin), “stake, pole, stake for vines,” from Old French pal and directly from Latin palus “stake, prop, wooden post,” related to pangere “to fix or fasten” (see pact).

From late 14c. as “fence of pointed stakes;” figurative sense of “limit, boundary, restriction” is from c.1400. Barely surviving in beyond the pale and similar phrases. Meaning “the part of Ireland under English rule” is from 1540s, via sense of “territory held by power of a nation or people” (mid-15c.).


late 14c., “become pale; appear pale” (also, in Middle English, “to make pale”), from Old French paleir (12c.) or from pale (adj.). Related: Paled; paling.

Totally unacceptable: “His business practices have always been questionable, but this last takeover was beyond the pale.” The Pale in Ireland was a territorial limit beyond which English rule did not extend.

Outside the bounds of morality, good behavior or judgment; unacceptable. For example, She thought taking the boys to a topless show was beyond the pale. The noun pale, from the Latin palum, meant “a stake for fences” or “a fence made from such stakes.” By extension it came to be used for an area confined by a fence and for any boundary, limit, or restriction, both of these meanings dating from the late 1300s. The pale referred to in the idiom is usually taken to mean the English Pale, the part of Ireland under English rule, and therefore, as perceived by its rulers, within the bounds of civilization.

see beyond the pale.

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