The term salary comes to us from sal, the Latin for salt, along with the story that Roman soldiers were often paid with salt, which at that time was both valuable and tradable. Some scholars doubt that, and suggest the term comes from the money given to Roman soldiers to buy salt.
Whatever, salary definitely comes from the Middle English salarie, from the Latin salarium, from the neuter of salarius, meaning pertaining to salt - but what's the big deal with salt anyway?
Salt is not only essential to life but necessary to the flavour of nearly all our foods. When we describe people as "salt of the earth" these days we usually mean simply that they are nice, but the original meaning was either that they were essential or that they gave life flavour by being interesting.
And when we accept an implausible tale with "a pinch of salt" or in its Latin form cum grano salis, we make it more palatable and more readily "swallowed".
FEEDBACK: Peter Spierings, of Carseldine in Brisbane, has pointed out that the Dutch for soldier is soldaat, and that pay is soldij, which is closer related to booze, nicotine and women than to salt: "There seems to be a link between soldier, soldaat and soldij," he wrote. "Could it be that sol- has its origin in Greek?"
Close. It was Latin, from solidus, solid. This, it seems, was used by Romans as a shortened form of nummus solidus, or solid coin, which found its way into Old French as soulde, pay, and the coin known as a sou. Since the essence of being a mercenary soldier was that one was paid for one's trouble (as opposed to being conscripted), anyone who thus served was known as a soudier, which begat the modern French soldat and the English soldier.
The word solder also comes from solidus: it originally meant to make solid.
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