Beyond the pale

Here, “pale” isn’t the adjective derived from O.Fr. paile, from L. pallidus “pale, pallid”, but the noun that comes from L. palus “stake,” related to pangere “to fix or fasten”.
The Phrase Finder explains that

Catherine the Great created a “Pale of Settlement” in Russia in 1791. This was a western border region of the country in which Jews were allowed to live. The motivation behind this was to restrict trade between Jews and native Russians. Some Jews were allowed to live, as a concession, beyond the pale.

Pales were enforced in various other European countries for similar political reasons, notably in Ireland (The Pale) and in France (the Pale of Calais).

Hence, the expression “beyond the pale” has come to mean “beyond the limits of what is acceptable”.

By | 2016-10-18T15:49:07+00:00 June 17th, 2009|Idioms|2 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Bela June 22, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Both sides of my family come from the Pale of Settlement.
    It made it so easy for the antisemitic hordes to organise pogroms against the Jewish population since it was concentrated within well-defined borders.
    Is there a specific reason why you posted about this? Did it come up in one your translations?

  2. céline June 22, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    I heard it on “Have I got news for you” and it struck me as one of those expressions that I use without having no idea where they come from. Once I looked into it, I was amazed by its historical resonance.

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