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Worth Your Salt




The expression “to be worth your salt” is older than the English language itself.  It was handed down from ancient Rome.  Roman soldiers were paid a salarium, which suggests that they’re getting paid enough to buy salt.  Salt was expensive back then, and not always easy to get, so this was significant, and did lend some status to anyone making enough money to buy it.  There’s a common misunderstanding that the Roman army paid all its wages in salt, but there’s no evidence that this is actually true.  This might have been done sometimes, when money was tight, but it was not common practice.  Still, salt was important enough that if a soldier were “earning his salt”, he was worth what he was getting paid.  In medieval English, the expression “above the salt” was used sometimes to refer to aristocrats, who had a lot more money and power than necessary to purchase salt.

From salarium, the modern word salary comes, whether you’re paid in iodized crystals or direct deposit.  Curiously, the word salad also refers to salt.  Early Roman recipes used salt to make greens more palatable.  (And, since this was Rome, there was probably some olive oil involved, too.)

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