beyond the pale

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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