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The major Cabinet reshuffle of Prime Minister David Cameron this week has been seen by much of the press as an opportunity taken to dispose of ministers who are white, male, middle-aged, middle-class, and hence perceived boring, in favour of more young people, more females and non-whites. And all this in readiness for next year's election.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/cabinet-shuffle-in-britain-culls-the-male-pale-and-stale/article19628249/

The term 'pale, male and stale' has been applied to departees like Kenneth Clarke, Dominic Grieve etc. (It has also been seen as an opportunity to dispose of Euro-enthusiasts in favour of Euro-sceptics, but that's another story).

My question is about the idiom 'pale,male and stale'. Did the expression exist previously? Who can be credited with having coined it?

I ask as one who perhaps fits the description, but am happy to wear it with my old-fashioned shirt and trousers.

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  • 2
    A short story by 'Saki' (H.H Munro 1870-1916) is about a would-be poet, and quotes the line 'The stale pale elephants of Cutch Behar'.
    – Jo Rushton
    Dec 18, 2016 at 9:39

3 Answers 3

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The combination of words seems to have originated as part of a spoof advertising slogan in the 50s. It seems quite plausible (but obviously not certain) that this is the origin of the modern usage. It could, of course, have evolved multiple times.

From "The Connoisseur's Guide to Beer" by James Donald Robertson (1984):

This brand first appeared in 1954 when radio KDKA disc jockey Rege Cordic aired a series of zany commercials for the fictitious beer, Olde Frothingslosh, The Pale Stale Ale for the Pale Stale Male.

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  • Plausible enough for me to award you the correct answer tick - at least until someone comes up with a better idea. Well done!
    – WS2
    Dec 22, 2021 at 21:34
  • I remember hearing "Olde Frothingslosh", but never saw it written (e.g. "olde").
    – Drew
    Dec 23, 2021 at 2:02
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The eldest reference that I could find was from a book about American Women and Flight Since 1940, saying

In 1992 NASA administrator Daniel Goldin declared that the agency was too "pale, male and stale."

But I also stumbled about some uses of "male, pale and stale" while looking for that.

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  • That is interesting. I couldn't imagine it was new.
    – WS2
    Jul 18, 2014 at 8:53
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I also found an earlier incidence of this quote in a journal article: Lawler, A. (1996). Goldin puts NASA on new trajectory. Science, 272(5263), 800-803. The quote you cite appears on page 800.

"Although Goldin was part of that community - he worked at NASA briefly before joining TRW to climb the corporate ladder - his Jewish background, brash manner, and unconventional ideas set him apart from what Goldin gleefully dubs the 'pale, male, and stale' coterie at NASA and in industry."

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  • I'm puzzled. The answer by skymningen was posted years before yours, and has an earlier attribution to Goldin (1992). So yours is not "an earlier instance". Perhaps you're just comparing it to the OP reference, but it seems misleading in context.
    – nealmcb
    Mar 3, 2019 at 21:12

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