In a word: sally

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be acquainted, another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


When you are besieged, you will sometimes find it to your advantage to have a small group of armed man dash out from the fortifications to take a quick swipe at the enemy. This action, a sortie, or sudden rush upon the enemy from a besieged place, is called a sally, and the word is also the verb for the action. The opening in the works from which this dash is made is called the sally port

Everyone likes to take military terms and apply them to non-military contexts (look at the sports section). Thus sally has a long-established metaphorical sense: a brilliant remark or riposte, a witticism. Dr. Freud was surely on to something when he observed aggression lurking beneath jokes and humor. 

The word, pronounced SAL-ee, like the name, is from the French saillie, an issuing forth, outrush, or outbreak. It in turn comes from the Latin salire, to leap. 

Example: In Boswell's Life of Johnson: "Voltaire, in revenge, made an attack on Johnson in one of his numerous literary sallies."

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