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In the movie Easy A, the character Todd said "See you at salt mines" to Olive when they met at Melody's party. What does salt mines mean? Does it really mean "a mine for salt"?

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So where was it that they met later in the movie? Was it perhaps at the salt mines? Were there any salt mines nearby? We need context. Not everybody has seen the movie, to put it mildly. –  RegDwigнt Apr 13 '13 at 15:51
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It's a high school drama and the scenes in the movie are mostly in campus. The next scene they met was beside the school swimming pool. And I know neither where the school is nor if there a salt mine around. –  Wil Huang Apr 13 '13 at 16:00
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More like GR: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/back+to+the+salt+mines Where is the research? –  Kris Apr 14 '13 at 13:26
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6 Answers

Salt mines are, of course, just mines for salt, but in classical times, they were staffed by slaves, typically POWs, and the work was so arduous and the environment so dangerous, that being sent to the salt mines was considered a death sentence.

To describe any job as a "salt mine" is a hyperbolic way of saying the work is unpleasant, arduous, or repetitive.

edit reading John's reference, I realized I was confusing salt mines with classical tin mines (also very unpleasant). Salt mines are more recent and their staff, not necessarily POWs.

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This answer is only lacking a reference, IMHO. –  Mr.Wizard Apr 14 '13 at 0:49
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No reference is needed, inasmuch as this is common knowledge. –  Animadversor Apr 14 '13 at 1:58
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IMHO "common knowledge" is often wrong and is even more in need of evidence. For instance, my understanding was that in "classical times", salt was produced by evaporating sea water, rather than mining. I certainly agree that salt mining is understood to be unpleasant, hence the idiom, but more specific historical claims ("staffed by slaves", "considered a death sentence") ought to be justified. –  Nate Eldredge Apr 14 '13 at 3:54
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@NateEldredge: "Common knowledge" is what suffices for idioms: even if given information is factually incorrect, if it is a common knowledge, it gives the origin of idiom. See "Swan song". Contrary to the ancient urban legends swans don't sing when dying, nevertheless the erroneous common knowledge gave origin to an idiom that lives to this day. –  SF. Dec 10 '13 at 6:40
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The idiom "back to the salt mines" is used to mean resuming work on any unpleasant task. So here, since the movie is set at a high school, "see you at the salt mines" means "I'll see you in school".

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Notwithstanding the foregoing, it should also be noted that salt is significant in this phrase because of its value in ancient times. In ancient history, salt was prized over gold (http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/lesson_plans/currency/essay2.html). Salt is required to sustain life and is still used to preserve food. Salt mines were more ubiquitous than gold mines.

While working in a gold mine as a slave may be every bit as arduous as working in a salt mine as a slave, the difference is that working in a salt mine sounds a lot less glamorous, which adds to the intent of the expression, which is to say, that one is going back to work at something unpleasant, repetitive, and ... completely dull and unglamorous.

Moreover, its also fitting because the English word for salary comes from the latin word 'salario' which means salt (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/salario)

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Said significance also lead to idioms like "worth his salt" from as far back as Rome. Soldiers were actually paid in salt and the competent ones were considered worth their wage, or "worth their salt". –  rsegal Apr 14 '13 at 4:03
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I think they are saying "Salt Mines" because no one wants to work in salt mines. With salt mines they refer to school/job/whatever where no one wants to go.

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Don't discount the simplest explanation: that there may actually be a place called Salt Mines, which should have been capitalized.

For instance, there is a place called Salt Mines here, in Northern Ireland. It's not a salt mine any more: it's a park, which has cycling routes / jumps, with a golf course and so on nearby. In other words, it's a place where people hang out; a place where two people might very well see each other later.

This is all assuming that you didn't leave out the word "the", of course. If it's "see you at the salt mines", then yes, they're probably calling the school a salt mine, as a half-joke.

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The origin of the phrase is a real mine for salt -- specifically a mine located in Usolye (which is an archaic Russian word that just means "salt producer" or something similar), whihc is in Siberia. This particular mine was owned by the Russian ruling family (before it was overthrown in the October Revolution).

As far as why the phrase is used: because the mine was used primarily as a prison, especially for political prisoners. Conditions were reputedly exceptionally brutal, including housing that was completely inadequate to protect from the Siberian weather, and excruciating punishments, up to and including being flogged to death for failing to work hard enough (where "hard enough" was apparently defined quite arbitrarily).

To summarize: forced hard labor, brutal conditions, and capricious punishment.

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Certainly an interesting answer, but I'd be surprised if a distant Siberian town was the real origin of the English-language phrase, given the existence of (equally brutal) salt mines in (much nearer) Poland and Bulgaria. But there is English.SE content here: the real power behind the Usolye mines was not the Romanov family but the Stroganovs. Yes, those Stroganovs. –  Malvolio Apr 16 '13 at 3:16
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