Friday, August 05, 2005

Today's Word: Pale

Here's another great example of a word that means something very different than what you know it to mean!

Actually, this is a fascinating example of a word that is two words!

From two different roots, come two different words, spelled and spoken exactly the same way. Are they the same word? I don't know!

The Latin word pallidus gives us our popular word that means a wan and sunless complexion. The meaning can be literal, referring to color saturation, and it can be metaphorical, alluding to a fading conviction or intensity!

However, from the Old French word, pal, comes the word 'pale' - which initially meant a sharpened stake.

These stakes weren't meant to be used in battle, but were placed as passive markers. They created visual boundaries that helped land owners mark off property. Soon, they were placed more densely together and what was once a sparse row of pales became a picket-fence which in turn retained the name.

So, a pale is a fence or a fenced in area!

But with that distinction came an idea that some things were within the pale - within one's own boundaries - and some things were beyond those borders. If you think about it, it's a very dangerous idea that sows the seeds of nationalism! It's a false concept of ownership and of entitlement! The notion that people can be included or excluded by mere geography is absurd in a modern context! Be careful of wanton nationalism! It leads to jingoism - belligerent patriotism - and that's a sad way for any nation to try to bolster its ego!

From the literal meaning came the obvious metaphorical analogy, and the only remnant of that French sharpened stick is a figure of speech that means anything outside of one's comfort zone.

Interestingly, many people think that the expression "beyond the pale" comes from the remote country-side of Ireland, where fog creates natural boundaries! Logically, anyone who explored too far into the fog (that pallid ghostly mist that lends romance to the bogs and marshlands) could get lost and was thus foolishly venturing beyond a safe distance!



Blogger fdfs said...

Interesting, as usual! I only ever knew about the Russian Pale. See also

12:13 AM  
Blogger fdfs said...

Here's that note on "beyond the pale" all linked up

12:14 AM  
Blogger Mr. Word said...

What a great find! This a fascinating article that really fleshes out the history of the word! Thank you for sharing it! I urge all of my readers to explore the article that Nick has linked to!

It's amazing how much depth a seemingly inconspicuous word can have!


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