Beyond the pale

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Last updated on August 9th, 2017 at 05:42 am

You’d be surprised at how often people use the unintended yet delightful phrase “pale into significance”; everyone from local bloggers to BBC sports commentators and British parliamentarians.

Posted by Tim B. on 11/01/2006 at 12:25 PM
    1. More interesting: What is (or was) “The Pale”?

      Posted by mojo on 2006 11 01 at 12:37 PM • permalink


    1. I think it usually meant “outside English jurisdiction”, most prominently rural Ireland.

      Posted by Spiny Norman on 2006 11 01 at 12:48 PM • permalink


    1. Er, “beyond the Pale” meant outside English jurisdiction…

      Posted by Spiny Norman on 2006 11 01 at 12:49 PM • permalink


    1. Again, I hit “submit” instead of “preview”.


      Posted by Spiny Norman on 2006 11 01 at 12:50 PM • permalink


    1. The Pale.

      As I suspected, it has the same etymology as palisade.

      Posted by Spiny Norman on 2006 11 01 at 12:54 PM • permalink


    1. The phrase could, however, be used to accurately describe Michael Jackson during the 80s and 90s.

      Posted by ErnestBludger on 2006 11 01 at 01:28 PM • permalink


    1. Beyond the pale?

      This is a reference to the   Pale of Settlement in which Russian Jews were confined in Czarist times. To live outside the permitted region, either by special license or illegally, was said to be   beyond the Pale.

      The Pale was first created by Catherine the Great in 1791, after several failed attempts by her predecessors, notably the Empress Elizabeth, to remove Jews from Russia entirely unless they converted to Russian Orthodoxy. The reasons for its creation were primarily economic and nationalist. While Russian society had traditionally been divided mainly into nobles, serfs and clergy, industrial progress led to the emergence of a middle class, which was rapidly being filled by Jews, who did not belong to either sector. By limiting their area of residence, the imperial powers were ensuring the growth of a non-Jewish middle class. Catherine can be said to have established the Pale as a compromise between those members of government who continued advocating the complete expulsion of the Jews, her own liberal tendencies, and the interests of the local population of the provinces, who suffered economically from the lack of a mercantile class of Jews.

      Poland and Crimea were part of the Pale of Settlement.

      The traditional measures of keeping Russia free of Jews failed when the main territory of Poland was annexed during the partitions. During the second (1793) and the third (1795) partitions, large populations of Jews were taken over by Russia, and the Tsar established a Pale of Settlement that included Poland and Crimea. Jews were supposed to remain in the Pale and required special permission to move to Russia proper, while Russian officials pursued alternating policies designed to encourage assimiliation (such as opening public schools to Jews) and destroy independent Jewish life (such as forbidding Jews to live in certain towns).

      A part of history branded into the memory banks of anyone with Russian Jewish roots all of whom can be said to be living beyond the pale.

      Which makes it such a great name for a   klezmer band.

      Posted by geoff on 2006 11 01 at 01:32 PM • permalink


    1. Oops. Third and fifth paragraphs should have been in quotation.

      Posted by geoff on 2006 11 01 at 01:34 PM • permalink


    1. The “Pale” is where you wait with “baited” breath.

      Posted by Winger on 2006 11 01 at 01:42 PM • permalink


    1. I’ve heard the term “pale into insignificance”.  I’ve never heard it used the other way.  I don’t get out much.

      Posted by RebeccaH on 2006 11 01 at 01:54 PM • permalink


    1. Perhaps it’s time for this expression to fade to black.

      Posted by paco on 2006 11 01 at 01:55 PM • permalink


    1. For all intensive purposes, I think it means to be overshadowed mightily.

      Posted by moptop on 2006 11 01 at 03:00 PM • permalink


    1. Is it a whiter shade of pale?

      Posted by Kyda Sylvester on 2006 11 01 at 04:54 PM • permalink


    1. To Paleo into insignificance is to run your not-yet-state into the ground by indefatigable ineptitude and incurable, mindless bellicosity.

      Posted by blogstrop on 2006 11 01 at 05:04 PM • permalink


    1. Maybe it’s my ESL non-credentials, but “pales into significance” doesn’t even make any frickin’ sense to me. I mean, if you’re going to wreck idioms, at least make sure the mashed-up version still looks and sounds like it has some meaning. (The aforementioned “intensive purposes” is a good example…it grates on my nerves every time I see it, but at least I can fathom why somebody would make that mistake.)

      Posted by PW on 2006 11 01 at 06:02 PM • permalink


    1. The misuse of this phrase pales in significance to the fact that it is just another indication of the imprecision in language, and thus thought, of our so-called educated classes.

      RebeccaH, while it isn’t idiomatic, at least your phrase makes sense.

      Posted by saltydog on 2006 11 01 at 06:11 PM • permalink


    1. #15 PW

      I thought the expression was

      pails in the insignificance as you do when you are towing the line while out plain sailing at the first crack of the day

      Anyway, make sure you don’t throw the cat out with the bathwater.

      Posted by geoff on 2006 11 01 at 06:35 PM • permalink


    1. #12
      I’m with your definition. pales into insignificance means being overshadowed, well, that’s what I thought it pacifically meant.

      Posted by kae on 2006 11 01 at 06:44 PM • permalink


    1. or pale to insignificance.

      Posted by kae on 2006 11 01 at 06:46 PM • permalink


    1. #16 Salty says RebeccaH, while it isn’t idiomatic, at least your phrase makes sense.

      Sorry to inform you, Salty, but it IS the idiomatic and correct usage…
      It’s well-known in Australian educated circles [I exclude many young journalists.]

      Posted by Barrie on 2006 11 01 at 06:48 PM • permalink


    1. Almost as annoying as hearing young Americans, when being distainful of something’s insignificance, talking about how “I could care less”.


      No.  The phrase is “I couldn’t care less”.

      Posted by Apparatchik on 2006 11 01 at 06:54 PM • permalink


    1. #17: geoff, I’ll take a feather out of your book

      Posted by Henry boy on 2006 11 01 at 06:57 PM • permalink


    1. Personally, I like malapropisms like
      “It all goes well for the Swans’ [or the Cardinals’] future”

      They misheard the word ‘augurs’ in this phrase -it’s archaic in English otherwise – it’s the verb for ‘augury’ – divination, prediction.

      How about a list of these, Tim?

      Posted by Barrie on 2006 11 01 at 06:58 PM • permalink


    1. I have also noticed that our American friends seem fond of the phrase “I could care less about…” when what they mean to say is the expression we use in these here parts “I couldn’t care less about…”

      Mind you ‘strayans are right up there when it comes to malaprops – a couple that I hear often “a blue ribbon event” (blue riband) “It all goes well for…” (when they mean augers)…etc

      Posted by Margos Maid on 2006 11 01 at 07:02 PM • permalink


    1. Didn’t see previous posts…Great minds

      Posted by Margos Maid on 2006 11 01 at 07:04 PM • permalink


    1. Paleo into insignificance

      SUCH an improvement over the previous version!

      Posted by KC on 2006 11 01 at 07:31 PM • permalink


    1. The Pale was a wooden fence the Vikings built around their settlement in present day Dublin.

      Beyond the pale refers to the activities of Irish barbarians outside the fence, which would be unacceptable within the Pale, the area under the control of the ‘civilized’ Vikings.

      Posted by phil_b on 2006 11 01 at 08:40 PM • permalink


    1. continued,

      The Pale was later used to refer to the area around Dublin under direct English control and hence civilized.

      Posted by phil_b on 2006 11 01 at 08:44 PM • permalink


    1. #21, that phrase also scrapes across my brain-pan.  Perhaps I’ve spent too much time with Strunk & White.

      Posted by RebeccaH on 2006 11 01 at 09:10 PM • permalink


    1. “pale into significance”

      Works just fine on a dark background…

      Posted by Harry Bergeron on 2006 11 01 at 09:56 PM • permalink


    1. With a decent grammar and literacy program we could correct these idioms in one fowl swoop.

      Posted by Infidel Tiger on 2006 11 02 at 12:49 AM • permalink


    1. What about ‘pacific’ for specific, and ‘change of tact’.  These may be Aussie gems.

      I know a real life Mrs Malaprop (God bless her) who says things like:  “Look at those poor Ethiopian children.  They’re so emancipated.”

      To which you can only smile and mutter under your breath ” They wish they were.”

      Posted by Big Jim on 2006 11 02 at 01:17 AM • permalink


    1. #31

      With a decent grammar and literacy program we could correct these idioms in one fowl swoop.

      With a decent grammer and litracy program we could correct these idiots in one foul swoop.

      I pacifically referred to that above.


      Did anyone else here in Aus notice the advert a few years ago when a refrigerator company was saying that their fridge produced ice “Pure as the driven snow.” Which advertising copy idiot wrote that without knowing what it meant?

      Posted by kae on 2006 11 02 at 01:26 AM • permalink


    1. Perhaps what is idiomatic in Australia isn’t idiomatic in America.  Huh?  Ever think of that?  Huh?  Didja?  Huh?

      Course, I could be wrong and so made an ass of myself.  Been known to happen.

      Posted by saltydog on 2006 11 02 at 01:49 AM • permalink


    1. But we invented the Idiotmatic!

      Posted by mojo on 2006 11 02 at 01:54 AM • permalink


    1. #35

      Yes, but does it take good photos?

      Posted by kae on 2006 11 02 at 01:59 AM • permalink


    1. #34 –  Too true. I think its that northern/southern cirrohsis effect.

      Posted by Infidel Tiger on 2006 11 02 at 02:02 AM • permalink


    1. Not long ago I made a crack around here somewhere that when it was reported that a certain well known Sydney Islamic cleric had   fallen on his sword [which in the circumstances struck me as an odd metaphor for the SMH to use] that explained why he was as mad as a cut sheik.

      Which I agree was well short of the best line in the history of this blog. But not all that bad either.

      It seemed to go the way of the lead balloon. Then it occurred to me that the idiom on which the line was based was probably not nearly as universal in time and space as I had assumed.

      Posted by geoff on 2006 11 02 at 02:07 AM • permalink


    1. Infidel: don’t you mean a literacy pogrom?

      Posted by Henry boy on 2006 11 02 at 02:07 AM • permalink


    1. #39 – Literacy pogrom, eh?

      Teacher: I before e, except after?

      Student: Except after Labor Day?.. BANG… thud.

      Posted by Infidel Tiger on 2006 11 02 at 02:30 AM • permalink


    1. #31

      With a decent grammar and literacy program we could correct these idioms in one fowl swoop.

      Tige, I’m waiting with baited breath for the fowl swoop.

      Posted by Skeeter on 2006 11 02 at 05:49 AM • permalink


    1. #41

      You’d better reign in your enthusiasm.

      Posted by Achillea on 2006 11 02 at 11:55 PM • permalink


    1. earth chattering

      another one.

      Posted by kae on 2006 11 04 at 07:54 AM • permalink


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