What do you think of this quote by the Roman poet Horace?
Your own safety is at stake when your neighbor’s house is in flames.
It means that one should be cautious if something dangerous happens to those close to you. While great thought for food, I would like to bring to your attention the word stake used in it. Stake means a wooden or metallic post that is used by farmers to support plants or mark a boundary. But this definition alone might confuse you as to its use in the above saying. This will also dismiss the versatility that this word possesses.
Apart from being a post, stake also means being at risk. It is a common term in the word of gambling. When the wager on a bet is too high, it is said to be a wager of high stake, i.e. of high risk. These high stakes gambles could lead to huge losses or even the loss of one’s life for fanatical gamblers who go as far as to wager their own lives. Thus, in the quote above, ‘at stake’ refers to our houses being in risk of catching fire as well if our neighbor’s house is on fire and we do nothing.
Let’s go back to the farmer’s stake which was called palus in Latin.
Palus led to the derivation of the word pale. This could be a point of confusion because here it refers to a stake. The word ‘pale’ though is also used to signify something which is light in shade or colour but we will take the discussion ahead keeping in mind the former meaning for now.
When pales are used for fortification as fences, they form a defensive wall called a palisade.
It is a relative of stockade which is also a defensive wall made by arranging stakes side by side, sometimes also referred to as a military prison. If an unfortunate soul tries to cross the palisade and his foot slips just slightly, he might as well have the pointed end of a stake pass right through him – a condition that can also be referred to as being impaled (to get pierced with a sharp instrument). There’s also the phrase ‘beyond the pale’ which means crossing socially acceptable limits. For instance, if the words used in an argument are beyond the pale, it means those word are outside the bounds of socially acceptable conversations.
A farmer can also stake his plants. Here, the sense is not of risking the plants though. When plants are staked by a farmer, it means the plants are being supported by poles driven into the ground. He could also be staking out his farm, i.e. fencing his farm or building a boundary. This practice gave us the phrase ‘staking a claim’ which means to assert one’s right to something. Thus a person staking a claim to a part of an inheritance is trying to essentially ‘fence in’ their portion of the inheritance. On the other hand, if someone has a stake in some company, they might have a share or interest in the company.
A summary of the words and a quiz should help you enlighten yourself further.
|Pale||Wooden or metallic pole to support the plants.|
|Palisade||A fence made up of pales.|
|Beyond the pale||Beyond socially acceptable.|
|Stake||A metallic or wooden pole to support plants; risk|
|Stockade||Defensive barrier made by arranging poles side by side.|
|Im-||Pale||Being pierced by a sharp object.|
Press on the image below to be redirected to the crossword:
5. A fence of palisade
1. A defensive barrier made of stakes
2. At risk
3. Being pierced by a sharp object
4. A stake