Salty water covers much of the earth’s surface, and salt has been a part of the diet of humans since time immemorial. So why wouldn’t the word “salt” find its way into the world of English idioms? The following are 12 expressions that use the word either in a positive or a negative sense, which just shows how salt has been viewed by people through the ages.

above the salt

Said of a person with high standing or repute (the opposite is “below the salt”)

Example: Being a wealthy woman, she thought of herself as being above the salt.

Click here for the origin of this expression.


add salt to something

Make something (e.g., conversation, story, presentation) more interesting and lively

Example: Lecturers need to add salt to their presentation lest their audience fall asleep.


back to the salt mines

Back to one’s daily work or routine. Spoken humorously to suggest some reluctance to undergo the drudgery of work.

Example: After their shore leave, the crew were back to the salt mines.


eat salt with somebody

Stay at someone’s house (a chiefly British idiom)

Example: He is still looking for an apartment and has to eat salt with an old friend in the meantime.


go pound salt

American expression of disdain that has the same meaning as “Get lost!”

Example: The chief mate hated the captain and was tempted in many occasions to tell him to go pound salt.


old salt

A seasoned sailor, especially one who is hardy and forthright in manner (as defined by Wiktionary)

Example: Old salts are a vanishing breed.


rub salt into the wound

Make an unpleasant or painful situation even more so for someone.

Example: For a manning agency to delay the payment of a seaman’s sickness benefits is to rub salt into his wound.


salt something away

Set aside or store something, usually money, for future use. The allusion is to food (e.g., meat) that is preserved by salting.

Example: As a struggling writer, he hardly had any money to salt away for his old age.


salt of the earth

Used to describe a person or group considered as good, reliable, morally sound and unpretentious.

Example: You can’t be the salt of the earth if you are dishonest and insincere.

The phrase was first used in the Bible (Matthew 5:13). Click here to learn more.


salt the books

Falsify information in a financial record or account to make certain items therein appear more valuable

Example: The company salted the books to give stockholders the impression that it was making a lot of money.


with a grain of salt

To take what is said or presented with a grain of salt is to give it little or no value because it is unverified or does not seem to be completely true

Example: Eager for more corporate donations, the seafarer charities have overstated the problem of depression at sea. One should therefore take their pronouncements on subject with a grain of salt,


worth (one’s) salt

Good at one’s job and deserving of one’s salary (the word “salary” is said to come from the Latin word for salt)

Example: Any maritime journalist worth his salt knows which side of a ship is starboard.

~ Barista Uno

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