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Worth Your Salt

When we say someone is "worth their salt," we usually mean they are competent at their work. But the phrase has an interesting history. According to NPR: "In Roman times, and throughout the Middle Ages, salt was a valuable commodity, also referred to as "white gold." This high demand for salt was due to its important use in preserving food, especially meat and fish. Being so valuable, soldiers in the Roman army were sometimes paid with salt instead of money. Their monthly allowance was called 'salarium' ("sal" being the Latin word for salt). This Latin root can be recognized in the French word "salaire" — and it eventually made it into the English language as the word 'salary.'"

Also, when people read something unsubstantiated for example, we might say, "You have to take that with a grain of salt." Although the origins of this phrase are ironically unsubstantiated themselves, legend tells another story from ancient Rome. In the late 70s CE, Pliny the Elder "recounted the story of how Pompey—best known for warring with Julius Caesar—found directions for the concoction that Mithridates VI used to inoculate himself against certain poisons. Mithridates VI famously ingested small doses of poison to build up his immunity, but according to Pliny, the recipe called for other ingredients, too: dried nuts, figs, and rue leaves. Everything should be minced together and taken after having added a grain of salt: addito salis grano."

Salt preserves, adds flavor, and is crucial to our diets - we just talked about raising my sodium levels at my Stat Wellness appointment this week . Salt has been a major item of trade, often treated like gold. Leviticus 2:13 tells us salt was a necessary part of offerings and sacrifice. Certain spiritual traditions as well as contemporary fantasy novels showcase salt as a way to battle evil spirits. Spilling salt has been considered bad luck, to the point that Leonardo da Vinci in "The Last Supper" portrays Judas as having overturned a salt shaker. We probably walk past a salt shaker every day on our kitchen counters, and yet it has an incredible history.

A few weeks ago I was also writing about salt, so I remind you of what