Worth your salt


I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the salt expressions in recent months. Probably too much thought. And yet, enough that some interesting tangents have developed.

We’ve all heard the expressions, in some version. The “worth your salt” concept being applied to a person or an organization. Where does the thought come from?

As base, let’s consider the old two birds sayings like “two birds with one stone” and “a bird in the hand” that seem to have clear messages. There could be two birds… three birds… a hundred birds in that bush, and the one in your hand is still worth as much if not more because it is in your hand. A lesson such as “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”? I get it.

That in place, on to “worth your salt”.

Most of the history lessons surround salt as a life-giving spice and expand from there. References abound of salt being used to preserve food. Salt gets used for tasks such as treating icy surfaces. There are virtually limitless uses for salt. It is quite common, incredibly functional, and absolutely necessary.

I’ve seen debates about whether or not Roman soldiers were truly paid physically in salt or with some form of credits they could use for purchasing salt. And yet, regardless of what any source says about that, the word salary… being paid for the work you do… does trace its history back to the word salarium, which has origins in the concept of combining salt and service. Essentially if you don’t do your work, and you don’t get your salt.

You can go off and do some reading of your own. I don’t think a lot of it is all that surprising. Most of it you will have, in some fashion and degree of detail, heard about previously. (Which, of course, is why that part most often isn’t what has me thinking.)

Have you ever heard of someone being referred to as a waste of oxygen?

(Yes… yes… a bit extreme. We’re all unique treasures. Blah blah blah. Not the point.)

Have you ever heard that thought? Because that twist has been taking up many of my thoughts.

These days we don’t often think about salt. Its presence is so ordinary it’s just kind of there… right there… for example, on virtually every table. And, same idea in a different direction, it’s not there. We have refrigerators and such so most of us don’t need salt for many purposes that it previously provided. (Ok… not previously provided, since it still does in plenty of places. But the demand is certainly not as high for some.)

Along those lines… to stretch it, as salt becomes salarium becomes salary… earning your salt becomes a reflection of worthiness. And more than the standard many of us apply these days of pulling your weight and earning your keep… in that waste of oxygen arena… suddenly I wonder if worth your salt can be viewed as being worthy of the salt your body uses?

I told you already, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. And often thought travels into peculiar corners.

And then again… moderation. Too much salt and you’ll get to have a fun conversation with your doctor. Or, offering up a brand new trail to navigate, I wonder how this fits into concepts of worthiness, when you generate or produce more salt than you can handle.

What happens if you’re not worth your salt?

Over time and distance, as years pass and generations expand, sources of expressions change and evolve. Things get modified, adjusted, or reapplied in some new fashion. Salt is one example of this, where honestly it would appear that much of the original ideas are still familiar in some way to many of us. That isn’t always the case. And salt does provide some surprises.

Which is all food for thought…

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com