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Monday, December 19, 2005

Speaking of Tearjerking

Posted by on December 19 at 0:06 AM

Umm, I just went to see It’s a Wonderful Life at the Grand Illusion, as I do every year, and I cried several times, as I do every year.

Now, that’s what I call a gay cowboy movie.

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Everyone has known of the racist subtext of _It's a Wonderful Life_ for centuries! God, why don't you just wear a white sheet to work?

What about the 1970s Marlo Thomas version, 'It Happened One Christmas'? Homo men seem to really like that one.

Yeah, that cross-burning scene is really beyond the pale.

God, Dan, I can't believe you're still leaning on that white supremacist rhetoric: "beyond the PALE"?


Sean, for shame—a baseless accusation of racism? From you?



Unacceptable; outside agreed standards of decency.


Firstly, let's get get clear what word we are talking about here. It's pale, and certainly not pail, - the phrase has nothing to do with buckets. The everyday use of the word pale is as the adjective meaning whitish and light in colour (and used to that effect by Procol Harum and countless paint adverts). This pale is the noun meaning 'a stake or pointed piece of wood'. It is virtually obsolete now except in this phrase, but is still in use in the associated words paling (as in paling fence) and impale (as in Dracula movies).

The paling fence is significant as the term pale became to mean the area enclosed by such a fence and later just the figurative meaning of 'the area that is enclosed and safe'. So, to be 'beyond the pale' was to be outside the area accepted as 'home'.

Catherine the Great created a 'Pale of Settlement' in Russia in 1791. This was a western border region of the country in which Jews were allowed to live. The motivation behind this was to restrict trade between Jews and native Russians. Some Jews were allowed to live, as a concession, beyond the pale.

Pales were enforced in various other European countries for similar political reasons, notably in Ireland (the Pale of Dublin) and France (the Pale of Calais, which was formed as early as 1360).

The phrase itself comes later than that though. The first printed reference comes from 1657 in John Harington's lyric poem, The History of Polindor and Flostella.

In that work, the character Ortheris withdraws with his beloved to a country lodge for 'quiet, calm and ease', but later venture further - 'Both Dove-like roved forth beyond the pale to planted Myrtle-walk'. Such recklessness rarely meets with a good end in 17th century verse and before long they are attacked by armed men with 'many a dire killing thrust'. The message is clearly, 'if there is a pale, you should stay inside it', which conveys exactly the meaning of the phrase as it is used today."

I'm just glad you spelled it correctly.

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