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A Sally is the fluffy part of a bellrope you hold at handstroke, but why is it called that? Edward Martin provided an answer to the Change Ringers list.

The word was certainly in use in Stedman's time and can be taken to refer both to the woolly bit of the rope, and the actual handstroke, as well as the movement of the rope. Perhaps the most illuminating quote is from page 134 of 'Tintinnalogia', where in advising how to fix an odd struck bell, Campanista writes:

"but sometimes the fault of the stroke is in the Sally, which you may remedy by tying the Fillet (or little Cord above the rim of the Wheel, which causeth the dancing of the rope) nearer or farther off the main Spoke."

If you look up 'sally' in The Oxford English Dictionary, you find mention of sorties, sudden dashes and outgoings such as the old military term 'to sally forth'. But for the origin of the word we have to go back to the old French 'sailie', noun from 'sailir'; which was a refashioning of the even older French 'salir', which in turn is from the Latin 'salire', to leap. It is related to 'salter' which is the frequentative of 'salire', from which we get the fancy word 'saltation' - leaping and dancing. The more common word 'somersault' is likewise related, as is the word 'salmon', the name given by ancient Romans to the fish that leaps."

A modern French word with the same derivation is "Sauté" because fried foods jump in the pan.

John Harrison on Change Ringers 18/10/2010 cites The Tower Handbook:

What is the origin of sally? Originally the word described the action of the rope jumping up at the handstroke, from the old French word sauler. In modern French 'sauter' means 'to jump'. Later the word was applied to the fluffy woolly part of the rope added to make it easier to hold the rope on the 'jumping stroke'.


Ian McCallion suggests that 'saillir' can also mean bulge (as in muscle bulging) adding "verisimilitude to the idea that saillie rather than sauler is the origin of sally."