07 June 2009

All about salt

What a strange topic to write about you might say! Well, today I observed a fast on account of Vat Savitri puja- the ritual practiced by married Hindu women for the well-being and long life of the husband. While consuming the saltless fasting food, my train of thought was directed to all things salty :)

I was reminded of the childhood story of the king who wanted to know which of his four sons loved him the most. After hearing exaggerated claims from his 3 elder sons, the king was quite taken aback when his youngest son told him that he loved him as much as he loved salt in his food. The king was quite crestfallen at this. But then the son made him eat food without salt. It was only then that the king realised how critical salt was to the taste and edibleness of food.

Salt is the common name for the substance sodium chloride (NaCl), which occurs in the form of transparent cubic crystals. Although salt is most familiar as a food supplement, less than 5% of the salt produced in the United States is used for that purpose. About 70% is used in the chemical industry, mostly as a source of chlorine. Salt is also used for countless other purposes, such as removing snow and ice from roads, softening water, preserving food, and stabilizing soils for construction.

Did you know that 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. Here is some trivia that I came across on googling on salt-

Salt of the earth - No, this is not the famous movie or the song from Rolling Stones album. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, 'the salt of the earth' is used to describe 'a person or persons of great kindness, reliability or honesty'. What was the origin of this phrase? Well, 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.

Salting an account - It means 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.

To sit below the salt - It 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.

Take with a pinch of salt - This expression, from the Latin cum grano salis, means that there's a grain of truth in it, not too much.


Shruti said...

very very interesting. Those were quite a few unique stories attached to 'salty idioms'. My favorite was the one about the salt cellar :)

One suggestion. Salt is not only NaCl but many other kinds of compounds. It is a group comprising of the Na column of elements (K, etc) and the Cl column of elements in the periodic table. It is true, however, that the salt we eat with food is mainly NaCl.

swapna said...

One will not need a dictionary to get information about phrases on salt !! Interesting facts.

I am also surprised at your strict fasting, do take good care of your health. Remember that SALT is an important ingredient in regulating the blood pressure.

state of mind? said...

hey thats an interesting post....
thanks for enlightning us on those salty tit bits..;))

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