On today’s Words and Their Stories we talk about a common word1, a small word, but a word that is completely necessary for human life. In fact2, without3 this simple, everyday material, all humans would die4.
Scientists know it as sodium chloride. We know it as salt5.
You may think6, salt is just a simple cooking element we shake7 on our food for a little extra taste8. But salt is much more than that. Without salt our muscles9 would not move. Our nervous systems would not operate. Our hearts would not beat10. Salt means11 life.
But do not think rubbing12 salt in a wound13 will help. Doing that would be painful14 and not heal15 the wound. To rub16 salt in a wound is an idiom17 that means to purposefully18 make a bad situation worse19.
Early humans20 got21 the salt they needed to stay alive22 from the animals they killed. But advances in agriculture led to23 a diet low24 in salt. So, humans needed to find others sources25.
Those who lived near the ocean or other natural sources for salt were lucky.Those who did not had to trade26 for salt. In fact27, people used salt as a method of payment28 in many parts of the ancient29 world. The word “salary”comes from the word “salt.”
Salt also played30 an important part in population movement and world exploration. Explorers understood that if they could keep31 food fresh, they could travel longer distances. So they used salt to preserve food and explored the world.
Salt meant32 movement.
Salt also changed the way nations fought33. With preserved food on ships, nations could sail34 to distant lands … and then attack them. Salt meant power.
Salt was so important that, according to35 food historians, it was traded pound-for-pound36 for gold. Today, people still use the expressions to be worth37 one’s salt or worth one’s weight38 in salt.
The expressions describe39 a person who is useful40, a person of value.
A person might also be called41 salt of the earth42. That description means he or she is dependable43 and trustworthy44. The phrase comes from the Christian Bible. Jesus called his loyal45 group of followers46 -- or disciples -- the salt of the earth.
But one of these disciples was not so loyal. The disciple Judas betrayed47 Jesus. In his famous painting “The Last Supper48,” Leonardo da Vinci shows Judas spilling a bowl of salt49. Spilled salt is a sign of bad luck50 and trouble51. And trouble is exactly what Judas gave52 Jesus.
Even53 today, some people throw salt over one shoulder54 if they spill it. They believe throwing salt behind55 them scares56 any devil57 that has been following them -- or at least58 blinds59 it for a second while they run away60.
But these stories about bad luck should be taken61 with a grain62 of salt. In other words, listen to a story or an explanation with suspicion and distrust63.
But you don’t have to take the information you find on VOA LearningEnglish with a grain of salt. We do our research.
And this research led to some interesting facts about salt in other cultures and religions.
In 2200 BC, the Chinese emperor64 Xia Yu created one of the first known taxes65. He taxed salt. And Egyptians preserved dead66 bodies with salt, creating mummies67.
The Catholic Church uses salt in many of its rituals. Buddhists use salt to prevent evil68. In Japan, the Shinto religion uses salt to clean an area of evil. In the U.S. Southwest, the Pueblo people worship69 the Salt Mother.
And in 1933, the Dalai Lama was buried70 sitting up71 in a bed of salt. Today in India, salt is still a symbol of good luck. What about your culture? Do you have any idioms or expressions about salt? In the comments section, share72 a story of salt from your culture.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
And I’m Anna Matteo.
Join us again for another Words and Their Stories, where we take a deeperlook at words in American English.
This short video on the history of salt is part of a longer documentary produced by the History Channel.
Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kellywas the editor.
1. Word = palavra
2. In fact = na verdade
3. Without = sem
4. would die = morreriam
5. salt = sal
6. may think = pode pensar
7. shake = sacudir, agitar
8. taste = sabor
9. muscles = musculos
10. beat = bater
11. means = significa
12. rubbing = fricciona
13. wound = ferimento
14. painful = doloroso
15. heal = curar
16. rub = esfregar, friccionar
17. idiom = maneira de dizer
18. purposefully = propositalmente
19. worse = pior
20. Early humans = humanos primitivos
21. got = conseguiam, obtinham
22. stay alive = ficar vivo
23. led to = conduziram a
24. low = baixo(a)
25. others sources = outras fontes
26. trade = comercializar
27. In fact = na verdade
28. payment = pagamento
29. ancient = antigo
30. played = desempenhou
31. could keep = pudessem manter
32. meant = significava
33. fought = lutavam
34. sail = navegar
35. according to = de acordo com
36. pound-for-pound = libra a libra
37. to be worth = valer
38. weight = peso
39. describe = descrever
40. useful = pratico, competente
41. might also be called = pode tambem ser chamada
42. earth = Terra (planeta Terra)
43. dependable = seguro
44. trustworthy = digno de confiança
45. loyal = leal
46. followers = seguidores
47. betrayed = traiu
48. Last Supper = ultima ceia
49. spilling a bowl of salt = derramando um pote de sal
50. sign of bad luck = sinal de azar
51. trouble = problemas
52. gave = deu
53. Even = até mesmo
54. throw salt over one shoulder = jogar sal sobre um ombro
55. behind = atrás
56. scares = assusta
57. devil = demonio,mal
58. at least = pelo menos
59. blinds = deixa cego, cegar
60. run away = fugir
61. should be taken = deveriam ser tomadas
62. grain = grão
63. suspicion and distrust = suspeita e desconfiança
64. emperor = imperador
65. taxes = impostos
66. dead = mortos
67. mummies = múmias
68. prevent evil = impedir o mal
69. worship = veneram
70. buried = enterrado
71. sitting up = sentando
72. share = compartilhe