Fun Etymology Tuesday – Salary & salt

Hello, lovely followers!

It’s Tuesday and, as usual, that means Fun Etymology time!

You know we at the HLC like to point out unlikely links between seemingly unconnected words, and today we’re not going to let you down. Today’s question is what does the salary you receive each year have to do with salt?

Well, apart from the money you earn being useful for buying salt, not much, isn’t it?

But actually, the word “salary” and the word “salt” share the same origin, the IE root *sal- ‘salt’.

Why is this so?
At the time of the Romans salt was a very precious commodity: it was difficult to extract from salt water and from mines, and the demand for it was very high, making it even more precious than gold in some circumstances (that’s where the common superstition that spilling salt is bad luck comes from. Imagine spilling over a pot of gold dust!).
Due to this, during the Roman Empire very well-payed professions, such as soldiers, received part of their pay in sal, a kind of payment which was called a “salarium”, or “salt-money”, a word derived from “sal”, “salt”.
This, like many other words, made its way through Old French, where it became “salarie”, and finally to Modern English “salary”.

Next time you season your food, think about how lucky you are that you live in a time when salt doesn’t cost like actual gold!

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