There are plenty of sayings and idioms that have solidified their spot in our language, but people often find that the phrase “worth one’s salt” or “worth your weight in salt” has an elusive meaning.
This saying actually dates back to ancient times when many roads and trade routes were developed by a market known as the salt trade. The salt trade was just what it sounds, a period in time before salt deposits were found to be readily available around the world, so merchants would travel far and wide selling salt to villages.
However, this salt wasn’t being carried such long distances just for because it was a tasty addition to just about every dish. Back then, salt was mainly used as a means for preservation, and it actually represented great power and value.
Without salt, armies wouldn’t be able to carry their rations for such long distances and explorers wouldn’t have been able to sail to new lands.
Salt really enabled society to expand. And, during those times when extraction methods were particularly tricky, salt was considered even more valuable. So, to say that someone is “worth one’s salt,” it’s a statement that acknowledges that they are competent, deserving, and–to put it simply–worthwhile. If a boss were to say it to an employee, it would be meant as a compliment, confirming that the employee is a valuable part of the team and they deserve their salary.
In fact, the phrase itself is thought to be rooted in Ancient Rome where soldiers were sometimes paid with salt or given an allowance to purchase salt. Similarly, if a person uses the phrase “worth its weight in salt,” to describe an object, they are expressing that they think the item is worth the price they paid or that it otherwise holds immense value to them.