Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sally Port

Tim from Traverse City asked about sally port. A sally port is an entryway, but unlike a normal door or opening, it is scrupulously secure and controlled. It shows up in fortifications, prisons, police stations, courthouses, and some places of business, such as a jewelry store.

In a fort, a barrier of some sort—often a thick floor-to-ceiling wall or a huge latticed grill raised and lowered on chains by a winch—is built in front of an inner door to make a direct assault by enemy troops impossible. But there was a small, concealed door through which castle occupants could sneak out unexpectedly to whittle away at a siege. They would sally forth or sortie through a sally port.

In a prison, it may be an airlock—two locked doors or gates separated by an enclosed space.  The second door won’t open until the first one is locked, thus trapping the persons entering until they can be examined. I remember a jewelry store on the south side of Chicago that would trap you between two bullet-proof doors until the clerk looked you over and buzzed you in—or back out.

The word port is ultimately from the Latin porta, a door.  Sally came into English from a French word that meant to rush forth. In turn, that came from the Latin salīre, to jump.

Tom from Cedar wrote to say that there is a naval equivalent, and he cited The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, edited by Peter Kemp. On a warship, a sally port was one of four openings cut into the side of a ship to allow sailors to escape quickly in the event of a hit to the stored gunpowder. It was also applied to the entry of a three-decker warship during the days of sail. Finally, it was a specific landing place in Portsmouth Harbor, England, used by landing boats transporting sailors to and from men-of-war anchored in the harbor.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

Nook edition

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