Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Heads or Tails #103 -- "Pale"

In today's Heads or Tails, our taoiseach of topics, Barb, gives us a choice: We may write anything at all (heads) about "pail" or something specific (tails) about "pale," those two words being homonyms. No -- don't worry -- I'm not getting political again. Anyway, I chose "pale."

You've heard the term "beyond the pale?" Usually as in, 'he's really gone beyond the pale?'

You might hear the expression in connection with the shouting match that passes for a debate about health care in this country. (No -- wait! Don't go away! -- I promise I'm not getting political again.)

You probably already know that "beyond the pale" means behavior that is considered to be outside the bounds of morality, good behavior or judgment in civilized company.

But have you wondered about the origin of the phrase?

In the late Middle Ages, "the Pale" was the boundary between 'civilized' Ireland -- controlled by the English -- and 'wild' Ireland, nominally under the suzerainty of the English crown and, more accurately, under the control of traditional chiefs and assimilated English nobility. 'Assimilated' is a twenty-five cent word that means gone troppo... and this was hundreds of years before any Englishman ever saw the tropics.

And, by English, of course, I mostly mean Norman-French. The Irish largely absorbed their Norman conquerors... the English weren't nearly as successful. Not for centuries.

The Pale was a fairly compact area around that fine Viking city -- Dublin.

Anyone who strayed beyond that boundary had literally -- to the English mind -- gone beyond the reach of civilization. Isn't that grand, now?


Karen said...

Well, how about that! I am learning something new every day.

i beati said...

knowledge good knowledge

Dave said...

I'm half Scotch/Irish, not Scotch nor Irish, by way of Appalachia. With the other half German and the history of what makes S/I, I guess I'm a mutt.

Grace said...

Not political... but historical.. thanks for the lesson... I had no idea. And for that I'm embarrassed... as I'm Scotch/Irish with some English and a splash of French and a whole bunch of German in me...

Sorry it took me so long to get here today... my HOTs has been up forever... :)