What does salary mean?

The first salaries were paid in salt. How would you feel getting paid in salt instead of money?

  videos Hot for words


Marina Orlova of Hot for Words: Hello my dear students! This week I have been working to hire an assistant. I found the perfect person to help me produce these lovely videos, but there was one problem. She didn't want to be paid in salt, she wanted a salary! Well, if salt was good enough for the soldiers who risked their lives for the Ancient Roman Empire, I think it should be good enough for the rest of us!

Wonder what I'm talking about? Let me explain …

Today, it seems crazy to pay someone in salt. But what if I told you that salt is very closely related to the word "salary"? It's true. In Latin, the word "sal," means salt, which was a widely used and extremely valuable food preservative in Ancient Rome - remember, this is before they had refrigerators. It was so valuable that wars were fought over it, and Roman soldiers were actually paid for their duties in salt.

Over time the system changed, and soldiers were instead given a "salarium," which meant an allowance for buying salt. The word took on a more general meaning of "regular, fixed payment for work done" and evolved into the Anglo-French word "salarie" in the late 13th century. Eventually, this turned into the English word "salary."

Today, we still use many expressions that don't really make sense unless you understand how valuable salt was in the Ancient world. Can you think of any? How about "worth your salt"… or "salt of the earth"?

For your homework, is there anything that has so much value that you would accept it for payment instead of a salary? If so, let me know what it is!



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