beyond the pale


2 [peyl]
a stake or picket, as of a fence.
an enclosing or confining barrier; enclosure.
an enclosed area.
limits; bounds: outside the pale of his jurisdiction.
a district or region within designated bounds.
(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.
an ordinary in the form of a broad vertical stripe at the center of an escutcheon.
Shipbuilding. a shore used inside to support the deck beams of a hull under construction.
verb (used with object), paled, paling.
to enclose with pales; fence.
to encircle or encompass.
beyond the pale, beyond the limits of propriety, courtesy, protection, safety, etc.: Their public conduct is certainly beyond the pale.

1300–50; Middle English (north), Old English pāl < Latin pālus stake. See peel3, pole1 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
pale1 (peɪl)
1.  lacking brightness of colour; whitish: pale morning light
2.  (of a colour) whitish; produced by a relatively small quantity of colouring agent
3.  dim or wan: the pale stars
4.  feeble: a pale effort
5.  (South African) a euphemism for White
vb (often foll by before)
6.  to make or become pale or paler; blanch
7.  to lose superiority or importance (in comparison to): her beauty paled before that of her hostess
[C13: from Old French palle, from Latin pallidus pale, from pallēre to look wan]

pale2 (peɪl)
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
7.  (tr) to enclose with pales
[C14: from Old French pal, from Latin pālus stake; compare pole1]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

c.1300, from O.Fr. paile, from L. pallidus "pale, pallid, wan," from pallere "be pale, grow pale," from PIE *pol-/*pel- (see pallor). The verb is first recorded c.1300. Pale-face, supposed N.Amer. Indian word for "European," is attested from 1822.

early 14c., "fence of pointed stakes," from L. palus "stake," related to pangere "to fix or fasten" (see pact). 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.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

beyond the pale definition

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.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

beyond the pale

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.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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