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Salt on a snake's tail

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 15, 2009 at 08:24

In Reply to: Salt on a snake's tail posted by ESC on March 09, 2009 at 17:31:

: : In "Salt on a Snake's Tail" (a story by Farrukh Dhondy) the saying "you put salt on a snake's tail and it'll never bother you again" is used. Can anyone tell me the deeper meaning? I believe it's an Asian saying.

: There's a lot of magical thinking in many cultures regarding salt. Probably because salt is so vital to life. "...from time immemorial it has been used as a protection against all the forces of evil," according to "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions" by E. and M.A. Radford, edited and revised by Christina Hole, Barnes and Noble Books, 1996. First published in 1948. Page 297. Recently I was reading a vampire book (vamps are all the rage). One of the characters made a ring of salt to keep out a rampaging supernatural being. It worked.

I was just a little surprised to see that snakes and vampires can be deterred from doing harm by putting salt either on their tails or around the beast. One of the well-known proverbial uses of salt is to catch birds, which you do by putting salt on their tails.

Among the examples cited by the Oxford English Dictionary you will note that this use gives rise to some interesting metaphorical uses early on

OED: "2. Proverbial and allusive uses. . .
c. In allusions to the jocular advice given to children to catch birds by putting salt on their tails.

1580 LYLY Euphues (Arb.) 327 It is..a foolish bird that staieth the laying salt on hir taile. 1664 BUTLER Hud. II. i. 278 Such great Atchievements cannot fail, To cast Salt on a Woman's Tail. 1704 SWIFT T. Tub vii, Men catch Knowledge by throwing their Wit on the Posteriors of a Book, as Boys do Sparrows by flinging Salt upon their Tails. . . ."