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What is the meaning of 'salt of the earth'

01:00 Mon 19th Mar 2001 |

asks Curt Herzog:

A. It means thoroughly good types. The origin is the Bible, from Jesus' sermon of the Mount, quoted in St Matthew's gospel: 'Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, werewith shall it be salted ' ( Translated as -You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again )

The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says it suggests that the disciples should give the world an interesting flavour, and not that they were simply jolly good chaps. Super.

Q. How is it used now
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, 'the salt of the earth' is now used to describe 'a person or persons of great kindness, reliability or honesty'. People like lollipop ladies and shepherds. This backs up another claim for the origin of the saying.

Q. What's that
In the Moroccan city of Fez, the Jewish quarter (Mallah) is very old and was home to Jews who did a lot of salt mining. They were considered very useful to the community, and it is claimed that the expression 'salt of the earth' originated here.

Q. So anything described as 'salt' is valuable
Yes. The Romans paid their soldiers an allowance of salt called a salarium - hence our word salary, and the phrases 'worth one's salt' and 'true to one's salt'. And if you 'salt a mine', you add valuable ore or something similar to make potential buyers think that they're getting something worthwhile.

Q. Is it the same idea for 'salting an account'
Yes. That's when you put such a high value on something that you raise its market value. Of course, salt is traditionally a mark of social worth.

Q. How does that work
To 'sit below the salt' means that someone has low social standing. It comes from an old custom of placing the family 'saler' (salt cellar) halfway down a long dining table. Those seated furthest away were the lowest rank. And people of distinction sat 'above the salt', near the head of the table.

Q. Should all this be taken with a pinch of salt
This expression, from the Latin cum grano salis, means that there's a grain of truth in it. What Don't you trust us

By Sheena MIller

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