Salt has a rich history and was once a precious commodity. In the times before refrigeration, it was highly sort after as an essential mineral to preserve food as well as for adding taste. Its importance led it to find its way into many idioms in the English language. Read along and discover some wonderful salt idioms with their meanings, some history, and example sentences.
1 – A person who is the salt of the earth is very honest, kind-hearted, and reliable. The expression is very old and can even be found in the New Testament of the bible. In days gone by salt was considered to be very precious.
Example – The farmers in this area are salt of the earth people. They are always willing to help people out.
2 – To rub salt into a wound is to make a person suffer more from something that is already bothering them. It can be done by reminding them of their faults or failures, or by bringing up a subject that they would rather forget. It can also be said as to pour salt into a wound.
This salt idiom also comes from ancient Rome when it was thought to be good practice to open any wounds on the body and clean them with salt. As you can imagine this could be quite painful!
Example – To rub salt into the wound his girlfriend started going out with his best friend after she left him.
3 – To be worth your salt is to deserve your job, position, or financial income. This is because you work hard and are good at something. This again comes from a time when salt was valuable. Interestingly, sal in Latin means salt, salarium (salt money), also Latin, is the origin of the English word salary.
Roman soldiers were paid a sum of salt money so that they could buy this mineral and stay physically healthy. At times they were even paid in salt. If a soldier wasn’t worth his salt, his salary was reduced.
Example 1 – Any doctor worth his salt would know how to treat that injury.
Example 2 – The new chef is definitely worth his salt, he cooks fantastic meals.
Salt idioms part 2
4 – To take something with a grain of salt is to not take it seriously or believe it completely. The information may not be trustworthy or accurate. This expression can also be said as to take it with a pinch or dash of salt and is more common in British English.
Example 1 – When the boy told his mother there was a monster under his bed she took it with a grain of salt.
Example 2 – He thinks that the newspaper doesn’t tell the truth and takes everything it writes with a grain of salt.
5 – An old salt is an old experienced sailor who knows what he is doing on a boat or at sea and has a lot of knowledge about these things. It is sometimes said as a salty dog.
Example – They met an old salt at the bar who told them fantastic stories about his time in the navy.
6 – A person who is below the salt has a low social status. Conversely, a person who is above the salt has high status. This salt expression dates back to medieval times when salt was still expensive and found on the dining tables of upper-class, rich, and powerful people.
Where you sat in relation to the salt showed your place in society. The wealthy host would sit above the salt, showing their high status while more lowly guests and servants would sit at tables below the salt.
Example – He wasn’t happy because he was sitting below the salt with junior workers at the company dinner.
7 – To be salty is to be upset, annoyed, or angry about something.
Example – She was very salty after her team lost the volleyball match.
Salt idioms part 3
8 – Salty language is coarse or bad language that is very impolite. A person who speaks like this can also be said to have a salty tongue.
Example – Don’t use that kind of salty language around the office or you will get into trouble.
9 – A covenant of salt is an agreement or arrangement that lasts for a long time. Salt is a wonderful preservative so this does make good sense. This salt idiom is said to have originated in the Hebrew bible.
Example – There is a covenant of salt between the two companies that they will not compete with each other in some markets.
10 – To say that you are going back to the salt mines is saying that you are returning to work. It is a negative expression that means you don’t want to go back, you dislike the job, and it isn’t very good.
In the past, working in a salt mine was not a very luxurious job and was often done by slaves and prisoners. It was an actual punishment in Russia where people were sent to work in salt mines in Siberia.
Example – We just had a great weekend at the beach but unfortunately I have to go back to the salt mines on Monday.
11 – To be the salt of the sea is to be important and an essential part of something. Just like the salt is a necessary part of the ocean.
Example – Tom is the salt of the sea for the company, without his ideas, they wouldn’t be so successful.
Salt idioms part 4
12 – Salting or to salt the mine is to trick or deceive someone. This is done by planting false information or materials in order to increase something’s value or importance. Salting the books also means putting false information into an account, record, or receipt.
The origin of this idiom is unclear but there was a fascinating character in America’s wild west who became famous for this practice. In the late 1800s, a certain Chicken Bill gained infamy for salting mines with valuable ore from other places. After luring in and tricking prospectors by showing them fake deposits he would sell mines at an exaggerated price.
Example 1 – The company salted the mine by placing small gold deposits on the land before they sold it for a high price.
Example 2 – After the investigation, it was shown that the inspector salted the mine and the evidence was not real.
13 – If you throw salt on someone’s game or salt their game, you disrupt and interfere with their plans. This idiom is often but not always used in relation to dating and trying to meet a partner.
Example – His best friend always throws salt on his game when he tries to talk to girls.
14 – Attic salt is sharp or dry wit and humor. This possibly came from another Latin expression. In classical times, the word salt was used as a metaphor for wit. Attica was the southeast region of ancient Greece surrounding Athens. A theory is that the people here were well-known for being witty.
Example – She was very well-liked at the party and entertained the guests with her attic salt.
15 – To salt away money is to save it and keep it in reserve for use in the future. You can also salt away other things such as food, keeping it in storage or safely in reserve for later.
Example – John has been salting away money for the last 10 years so that he can retire early.
Salt idioms part 5
16 – To eat salt with somebody is a mainly British idiom that means to stay in their home.
Example – She moved out of her parent’s house and is eating salt with Jenny this month.
17 – Somebody who doesn’t have enough sense to pound salt is not very clever, is inept, and lacks common sense.
Example – There is no way he will be able to fix that computer, he doesn’t have enough sense to pound salt!
18 – To have something hung up and salted is to know something extremely well and know everything about it.
Example – If you need help to fix your bike ask Tom, he has bikes hung up and salted.
19 – Salt and pepper as an idiom is used to describe something that is a mixture of black, gray, and white. Most commonly, people use this salt expression to describe hair.
Example – Once he turned 45 years old, his beard became salt and pepper colored.
If you enjoyed the salt idioms and would like something similar, check out the salt conversation questions. These questions are perfect for a general discussion on the topic.