An easy political target

"The US economy sneezes and instantly the rest of us risk pneumonia. Fortuitously, Australia now has a convenient Aunt Sally..."

The phrase "Aunt Sally" is often used to describe a person or organisation at whom it is easy to take a cheap shot. The phrase originated in the 19th century as a fairground game, in which a doll or moppet was set up, usually taking the form of an old woman, in whose mouth was a pipe. The object of the exercise was that players had a number of balls to throw at the effigy in the hope of dislodging the pipe from its mouth.

"Aunt" was a term frequently used to describe elderly female household servants, especially those of African origin, but the title might be applied to any older woman, often as a term of respect when uttered by children. The Cassell Dictionary of Slang also suggests that a possible influence may have been a black-face doll popular in the early 19th century, also called Aunt Sally, and of course she's also Tom Sawyer's aunt.

By 1898, the game was sufficiently well-known that the expression "Aunt Sally" could be used figuratively to describe someone who was the object of attack, both easy and unwarranted. Many people and groups may be eligible for this description, especially those groups known in the UK as quangos, bodies set up by Government with a degree of autonomy.

Aunt Sally (in the form of a rosy-cheeked woman) was also a character in the BBC children's TV series Worzel Gummidge, and was played by Una Stubbs.

A Traditional Oxfordshire Pub Game

In addition, it refers to a type of skittles game played, as far as I can tell, only in Oxfordshire. The game, for which there is a fiercely contested league, involves the players hurling six hardwood sticks at a skittle (known as the 'doll' or 'dolly'), mounted on a metal post. The sticks are between 18 inches and two feet (45 to 60 cm) long, and about two inches (5 cm) in diameter.

Points are scored by knocking the dolly off its perch without hitting the iron mount. Each player has four turns, at the end of which, the scores are totted up, and naturally, the highest score wins. In the event of a tied game, further rounds are played, first with three sticks apiece, then one. In the unlikely event that there is still a draw, the game seems to begin again with six sticks each. All in all, it sounds like a wonderful game to play. It's a pub game, so people have been drinking beer and then they start hurling clubs around. To think that I considered pub darts dangerous!

Anyone interested in playing need only seek out one of the following pubs: The Red Lion at Deddington, or the Trout Inn, Lechlade. The sport is taken seriously, to the point where the Oxfordshire Sports website reports on the leagues.

Cassell Dictionary of Slang

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