What Does Worth Their Salt Mean?

Worth Their Salt Meaning

Definition: to be worth one’s wages or pay; a good employee; to be worthy or worthwhile.

In other words, this idiom describes a person who deserves the pay he or she receives, or someone who is worth the cost.

It is common for it to be formed as a negative statement as well: she is not worth her salt. It can also take on many different pronouns, e.g., worth their salt, worth his salt, worth her salt, worth your salt, worth its salt.

Origin of Worth Their Salt

The Latin word salarium (which is where we get the English term salary) literally means salt money. Salarium was the money paid to Roman soldiers that they used to purchase salt and other essential and valuable items.

worth your salt origin There is some debate as to whether the soldiers were actually paid with rations of salt, from which they could then trade for other items, or if they used salarium to make their purchases of salt.

Similar expressions like worth one’s while and worth one’s weight in gold are much older than worth one’s salt, yet the idea and history for these phrases are similar.

People often think of gold as something very valuable, and as interchangeable with money. In the past, salt was extremely valuable as well.

Despite its older counter-phrases, to be worth one’s salt did not originate until the 19th-century, when a number of writers were taken by it. An early example is in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883):

  • It was plain from every line of his body that our new hand was worth his salt.

Examples of Worth Their Salt

not worth his salt meaning This example shows two coworkers who are talking about the new intern the company hired.

Regina: Did you meet the new intern yet?

Ginny: Yes, I did! He’s great. He already has helped make everyone coffee, fixed the printer, and helped put together a presentation. I don’t know how much they are paying him, but he’s definitely worth his salt!

Regina: I think his pay is very low, since he’s just an intern. But you’re right. Whatever it is he’s more than worth it!

In this example, two friends are talking about aspects of their city’s mayor.

Kevin: I’m so sick of this mayor. I’m definitely voting against him when he is up for reelection. He doesn’t do anything. He just sits around and takes tax payer money. Name one thing he did to improve our city!

Steve: I can’t. When he first got elected, I thought he’d be great. He seemed motivated and honest. I thought to myself, ‘That guy is really worth his salt.’ It’s too bad that this turned out to be wrong.

More Examples

This quote uses the expression to talk about some proposed new regulations regarding pollution. The speaker believes any good judge would agree with the new regulations because they are objectively lawful and helpful.

  • “Any judge worth his salt will approve this plan.” –LA Times

This excerpt argues that movie bad guys are only worthwhile if they give a big speech about their evil plan.

  • Every supervillain worth his salt eventually gives a monologue about his plans to remake the world in his image. Now the final trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” has arrived to give its titular bad guy his big moment. –LA Times

Summary

The saying worth one’s salt describes a person who is equally, or more, valuable than the money he or she earns.