At church last week I was joking with my son about something and declared it “Beyond the pale.” At which point he, of course, asked what in the world that meant.
Hmm. Good question. This being me, I immediately pulled up etymonline.com (so not cool, Mom) and looked up what archaic meaning of pale had led to that saying–because obviously, it doesn’t mean “beyond fair-skinned.” Though my husband jokingly insisted it did.
Turns out that back in ye olden days, in the 13th century, a pale was a stake or pole used to create boundaries between things. By the 14th century, it had taken on the figurative meaning of “any boundary or restriction.” I love that the website says this meaning is “barely surviving” in phrases like “beyond the pale.” So true! Something we still say, but without really knowing why we say it! So “beyond the pale” would literally mean that something pushed beyond the limits.
Are there any other phrases you use whose actual meaning you’re uncertain of? I’d love to look into them!