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OnWords: Salt


Occasionally, I like to focus in on an everyday word and really listen to it, observe its missed qualities. One of those words is “salt.”

A regular of both plate and palate, “salt” is not merely a common ingredient, it’s also a nutrient both necessary and potentially deadly. Too little and you die. Too much will kill you as well.

Rather than being so ubiquitous as to be dull, salt embodies the balance that governs all living things, the middle way shared by philosophies both mystic and logical.

Consider the way the tongue slides off the “s” and halts abruptly at the word’s end. “Salt,” for a single syllable, involves almost the entire mouth.

Salt is so basic to being that it appears as a solidifying factor in timeless terms like “salt of the Earth.” Salt and good people preserve what’s most precious.

If you’re worth anything at all, you’re “worth your salt,” a reference to a time when soldiers were paid in the stuff, the basis of the word “salary.”

“Salty” is the talk of common folk, those who haul and hammer, those who lift with a block and tackle, those who shovel grain.

And while its reference to the briny sea is obvious, it’s only fitting that a venerable sailor is called “an old salt.” You can imagine the stuff caked in the creases of his hands.

We might associate blood with filial love, but as for sweat and tears, the other two terms in our triumvirate of sacrifice, they are heavily laden with salt.