Grain of salt

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(With) a grain of salt is a literal translation of a Latin phrase, (cum) grano salis.

Since in Italy "to have salt in your pumpkin" (avere sale in zucca - pumpkin is a humorous way to say "head") means to have intelligence and reasoning capabilities, "grain of salt" often means "a little bit of intelligence". So, "cum grano salis", in its Latin form, it is often used when it is needed to show that intelligence and personal judgment are needed, as in "I drink wine cum grano salis since I must drive" (with care, moderately) or "please, repair this electric cable cum grano salis" (not scanting, thinking to the consequences or dangers of repair your electric cable). "Cum grano salis" means - like in modern English "with a pinch of salt" - that something should not be taken too literally.[1]


The phrase comes from Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia, regarding the discovery of a recipe for an antidote to a poison.[2] In the antidote, one of the ingredients was a grain of salt. Threats involving the poison were thus to be taken "with a grain of salt" and therefore less seriously. An alternative account says that the Roman general Pompey believed he could make himself immune to poison by ingesting small amounts of various poisons, and he took this treatment with a grain of salt to help him swallow the poison. In this version, the salt is not the antidote, it was taken merely to assist in swallowing the poison.

The Dutch language has a similar phrase: een korreltje zout.[3] as has the Danish language: et gran salt.[4]

The term can occasionally be found in older recipes as a literal measurement on an amount of salt.[citation needed]


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