The German language′s saltiest expressions | Meet the Germans | DW | 18.08.2021

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Meet the Germans

The German language's saltiest expressions

Once known as "white gold," salt is essential to life. No wonder it's trickled into German idioms. And oversalting is seen as a sign that you're in love...

Nowadays, it often gets a bad rap as a health risk from overuse in processed foods. But formerly, natural salt was considered a precious commodity — so much so, that it was dubbed "white gold" as it played a central role in the development of the environment and human civilization.

Before the invention of refrigeration, it was used to preserve meat, fish and vegetables, which ensured there was enough to eat over a long winter. Adventurers could likewise set out on longer journeys with sufficient provisions in their packs. It was traded for goods and services; roads were built for its transport.

In Europe, the Celts and the Romans valued it highly, with the latter having paid its soldiers enough wages to buy salt, or paid them in salt cakes, hence the origin of the English word "salary," from the Latin "salarium," with the "sal" root meaning "salt." 

Read more: A 'German superfood' for every month of the year

Sodium chloride dump site in Lower Saxony, German

Environmentally destructive sodium chloride dump heap, a byproduct of potash mining, in Lower Saxony, Germany

Many uses for salt

With modern mining methods, it's possible to extract and process it from underground deposits or from rock. But for centuries, and still today, people have also harvested it from seawater, channeling the water into small ponds that evaporate and leave behind salt crystals that harden in the sun. This method gives rise to the precious Fleur de Sel.

While adding tangy flavor to food, as well as being used for a wide variety of industrial purposes, such as cleaning, it is still praised for its medicinal value. Gargling with salt water soothes a sore throat; it is also used in therapies to alleviate respiratory or skin problems. And, of course, it's also essential for our bodies to survive.

Given its importance, it's no wonder that salt has trickled down into language.

Click through the gallery above to view some of the German idioms involving salt.

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