"Not Worth His Salt" By Neal Murphy

February 4, 2019 - Has anyone ever said about you, “He/she is just not worth their salt.” This is an interesting statement. What about salt, and what it is worth? To me, salt is a very cheap mineral. One can purchase a box of salt at the grocery story for less than a dollar. So, what’s the deal about salt being worth so much?  

Salt itself has an interesting history. The use of salt dates back to Biblical days in the Old Testament. It seems that Sodium chloride, a.k.a, salt, is essential for human life, and until the invention of canning and refrigeration, was the primary method of preserving food. Not surprisingly, it has long been considered valuable

Actually, what the phrase “not worth his salt” means is to be worth one’s pay. Our word salary derives from the Latin word salarium (sal is the Latin word for salt), and literally means salt money. Salarium was the money paid to Roman soldiers that they used to purchase salt and other valuable items. 

Some historians believe that the Roman soldiers were actually paid with salt.

Some of the earliest evidence of salt preserving dates to around 6,000 BC when people living in the area of present-day Romania boiled spring water to extract salt; a salt-works in China that dates to approximately the same period. Salt was also prized by the ancient Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Indians. Salt became an important article of trade, and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara desert on camel caravans.

In Biblical times we may recall what happened to Lot’s wife when she turned back to long for the city of Sodom. The Bible says the she was turned into a pillar of salt. The people of that day would line their clay ovens with salt to enhance the heat.

Salt continues to be important enough to feature in the language for many centuries. Other phrases that would have been known to the medieval mind were, “take with a grain of salt”, the “salt of the earth,” and “below the salt line.”

The ancient roots of “worth one’s salt” compares to the 13th century’s “worth one’s weight in gold,” and the 14th century’s “worth one’s while” which gives the phrase an historical air.

Despite its older counter-phrases, “to be worth one’s salt” did not originate until the19th century when a number of writers were taken by it. An early example is in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883): “It was plain from every line of his body that our new hand was worth his salt.”

So, we find that the phrase “to be worth one’s salt” means a good employee, or to be worthy, or worthwhile. In other words, this idiom describes a person who deserves the pay her or she receives, or someone who is worth the cost.  

Think about it – are you a person who is “worth your salt” in every thing you do?  If not, then you need to do something about it right away.