Printable Version
Pronunciation: payl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A pointed stake driven into the ground, a rod or pole used to demarcate something. 2. A fence made of such stakes. 3. A designated area demarcated by such a fence; any demarcated area, including conceptual ones.

Notes: This word is only coincidentally the same as the adjective pale. That word has probably the longest run of semantic stability of any other word; it comes from the PIE word pel- "pale"! The noun pale is a lexical orphan without any derivational family.

In Play: English has an idiom, 'beyond the pale', short for 'beyond the pale of acceptable behavior': "Piracy is beyond the pale on the high seas, but not in politics." This word also may refer to politically restricted area for certain peoples, as the Jewish pale in 19th century Russia. Otherwise, it refers to conceptual realms: "We all hope the 2020 elections will bring politics back into the pale of science."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Old French pal, inherited from Latin palus "stake, prop, wooden post". This word came to Latin from PIE pak-lo-, a suffixed form of the word pa(n)g- "to fasten, bind", with a Fickle N. This time the Germanic languages accepted the N without the suffix, and it turned up as fang in English and fangen "to catch, trap" in German. The N comes and goes in Latin pangere "to fasten, bind", the past participle of which is pactus "bound, settled", which English borrowed as pact. Latin pax, pacis "peace" also comes from the idea of a binding settlement that ends a war. English borrowed Latin pacificus "peaceful" for its pacific. (It would be beyond the pale to forget to thank Jackie Strauss for suggesting such an intriguing Good Word as today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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