phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Straw man

Posted by TheFallen on April 01, 2002

In Reply to: Straw man posted by Word Camel on April 01, 2002

: All this talk of Druids has got me thinking about the phrase, to set up a straw man, meaning to attribute a position to someone that he doesn't hold and then to refute it in order to make it seem as if one has won the argument.

: I was thinking of the practice of burning a straw man on Guy Fawkes night - which I understand is the sort of echo of Druidic harvest rituals. I also wondered about using straw men to practice combat with or using a straw man for a decoy.

: Who was the straw man? Where does the phrase come from?

That's an interesting question. It is indeed true that the Druids - clearly an inflammatory subject in more ways than one - were fond of creating giant wicker figures, filling them with animals and also people, and then setting fire to them as some form of sacrifice (sources include Diodorus and Strabo here before anyone asks).

However, as to "straw man", I'd always presumed that it was an alternative expression for an Aunt Sally, which I understand to be the name for a female straw figure set up at country fairs in days of yore for the paying public to throw things at.

What really interests me though is Ms Camel's comment as to the burning of effigies in the UK on Guy Fawkes night being related to druidic practice. This had never occurred to me, since I simply assumed that the tradition dated back to the early 1600's and was a celebration of Guy Fawkes' failure to blow up the Houses of Parliament, his capture and subsequent execution.
The potential druidic link is interesting, since November 5th - Guy Fawkes night - falls very close to the date of the Celtic fire festival of Samhain. Does anyone have any referenced examples of the tradition pre-dating 1605?

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