English Pale



A pale is a territory or jurisdiction (possibly non-territorial) under a given authority, or the limits of such a jurisdiction. The term was often used in cases where the territory or jurisdiction outside the pale was considered hostile.

A famous pale in Ireland during the 14th and 15th centuries was known simply as the Pale, or as the English Pale. This was a region in a radius of twenty miles (32 km) around Dublin which the English gradually fortified against incursion from Gaelic Ireland.

Other pales include:

The word can also be used to describe the (limits of) jurisdiction of non-territorial authorities, for example, "the Church claims no authority over unbaptized persons, as they are entirely without her pale".


The word pale derives ultimately from the Latin word palus, meaning stake. (Palisade and impale are derived from the same root.) In this case it literally refers to a stake (or pole) that forms part of a protective fence around a settlement. From this came the figurative meaning of 'boundary', and the concept of a pale as an area within which local laws were valid.

The phrase "beyond the pale", meaning to go beyond the limits of law or decency, was in use by the mid-17th century. The first example known to the Oxford English Dictionary is in a work by Sir John Harington, The History of Polindor and Flostella, written sometime before 1612 but published in 1657: "Both Dove-like roved forth beyond the pale / To planted Myrtle-walk. The phrase is possibly a reference to the general sense of boundary, not to any of the particular pales that bore that name, although in Ireland it is popularly understood to be a reference to the Pale around Dublin (See above). To 'Go Beyond the Pale' in the Irish context is to leave the English world behind and enter the Irish world.

Several Irish-American musicians have attempted to reclaim the term and use it to refer to a sense of Irishness or Celtic identity that is untouched by the British, though ironically they use the English language to do so. The term is referenced in this context in the lyrics to "I Am" , by Beltaine's Fire on their debut release 'The Weapon of the Future'. Irish-American Hard-Rock singer 'Fiona' used the phrase 'Beyond the Pale' as the title for her debut release on Atlantic Records in 1986, simultaneously asserting her Irishness and her disregard for 'decency'. A third group, Irish folk band 'Beyond the Pale uses it to imply that they themselves are 'beyond the pale' and therefore authentically Irish. The Term is also currently used for a Deathcore band hailing from Durban South Africa.


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