phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

"...not worth his salt"

Posted by ESC on November 23, 2002

In Reply to: "...not worth his salt" posted by Shae on November 22, 2002

: : Where did the phrase referring to "a man not being worth his salt" originate?

: I don't have any reference to hand but here's my understanding:

: Until relatively recently, salt was a very precious commodity. Roman soldiers were given money specifically to buy salt or were paid with salt, thus the word 'salary,' from the l*t*n 'salarium.' Salt became equated with wages, so a person not worth his salt did not give value for money.

WORTHY OF (WORTH) HIS SALT - ".Oddly, the modern expression dates only from the 19th century, probably originated by a classicist who was recalling the Roman practice (giving money for buying salt - "salarium"). Thus, in Frederick Marryat's 'The King's Own' : 'The not worth his salt." From "Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985).

Another source says it is NOT related to salarium because people in the 19th century wouldn't be familiar with the practice. From "2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to a Song and Dance" by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993).