Word Confusion: Pail versus Pale

Posted October 24, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 19 February 2018

This pair of heterographs haven’t been a frequent word confusion, but I came across it in a Facebook post, and I wasn’t sure what the action was supposed to be. If it was a new paranormal creature called a pale or simply a spiritual sort of pale. It could also have been meant to be a simple pail. But there wasn’t enough context to tell.

It doesn’t matter where you write, there will always be someone (like me, *grin*) whimpering away about what does it mean…, and you really don’t want to distract your reader from the message you do want to send.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

If you found this post on “Pail versus Pale” interesting, consider tweeting it to your friends. Subscribe to KD Did It, if you’d like to track this post for future updates.

Return to top

Pail Pale
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster

“Pails, Tubs, and Buckets” courtesy of Factory Direct Craft.

“Pale Light” poster is available at the Deviant Art website.

Part of Grammar:
Plural: pails
Adjective 1; Noun 2;
Verb, intransitive & transitive 3

Third person present verb: pales
Past tense or past participle: paled

A bucket Adjective:
Light in color or having little color

  • [Of a person’s face or complexion] Having less color than usual, typically as a result of shock, fear, or ill health
  • Figurative] Feeble and unimpressive

A wooden stake or post used as an upright along with others to form a fence.

  • [Figurative] A boundary
  • [Archaic or historical] An area within determined bounds, or subject to a particular jurisdiction
  • [Archaic] Palisade
  • [Archaic] Paling

[The Pale; historical] Another term for English Pale 4

  • The areas of Russia to which Jewish residence was restricted.

[Heraldry] A broad vertical stripe down the middle of a shield

An area or the limits within which one is privileged or protected (as from censure)

Verb, intransitive:
Become pale in one’s face from shock or fear

Seem less impressive or important

Verb, transitive:
To make pale

To enclose with pales

  • Fence

To encircle or encompass

Quick, grab the pail.

Use a mop and pail to clean that up.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.

Choose pale floral patterns for walls.

She looked pale and drawn.

Unconvincing rock that came across as a pale imitation of Bruce Springsteen.

Bring these things back within the pale of decency.

Oh, you have gone beyond the pale.

Verb, intransitive:
I paled at the thought of what she might say.

All else pales by comparison.

His own problems paled into insignificance compared to the plight of this child.

Verb, transitive:
Jean is paling the garden for me.

He was pale with fear.

Adjective: paler, palest, palish
Adverb: palely
Noun: paleness, paling
History of the Word:
Middle English with an uncertain origin.

Compare with the Old English pægel meaning gill, small measure and the Old French paelle meaning pan, liquid measure, or brazier.

1 Middle English from the Old French pale, which is from the Latin pallidus.

2 Middle English from the Old French pal, which is from the Latin palus meaning stake.

3 From the Old French palir.

4 That part of Ireland over which England exercised jurisdiction before the whole country was conquered. Centered in Dublin, it varied in extent at different times from the reign of Henry II until the full conquest under Elizabeth I.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Return to top

Pinterest Photo Credits

Shaker Style Pails with Handles photographed by Doug Coldwell is under the CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL licenses, via Wikimedia Commons.

Kathy's KD Did It signature

8 responses to “Word Confusion: Pail versus Pale

  1. I wonder if I am enlightened by reading these posts, and I confused more than I realised or if I am adding more confusion? I am sure it is the former and not the latter ! It could also be that Facebook posts and such can influence us without realizing it.

    • I certainly feel more confused when I’m writing up some of these Word Confusions, and every once in a while I am downright discombobulated. What terrifies me, really, is the humongous number of posts, websites, and books (whether they’re eBooks or hardcopy) which misuse and abuse the English language. This perpetuates the wrongful usage of a word, so, yeah, I’m not surprised you’re feeling confused.

      At worst, if these Word Confusions make you stop and think…it’s a good thing!

      • I agree and in great part it is with posts (I noticed yesterday when I took a plunge and wrote from the heart that in my haste I made some Whoppers… but as indie books have less organized more limited budgets there is a huge problem that languages will indeed deteriorate in a form that actually becomes (sic), this is not new with the tremendous influence after WW II of the American soldiers in France Le fin de semaine was replaced by Le Weekend and they actually added the verb Stopper (from stop).We may well be in a threshold wherein decades we will sound as archaic as The Bard

        • Oh, say it ain’t so! Just think how difficult it will become to read the “greats” of our time: Clive Cussler, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, David Weber, Mercedes Lackey, J.R. Ward…LOL.