Worth one's salt- worth one's pay; something or someone that deserves respect and support.

Mark: That journalist is biased. I don't like the way she interrogates our mayor.

Dale: Every journalist worth his or her salt should ask probing and challenging questions.

Does the "salt" here referring to the journalist or the person the journalist is interrogating?

  • 1
    Salt just means salary here. And vice versa.
    – tchrist
    May 18, 2016 at 4:02
  • 4
    Roman soldiers used to be paid in salt, cheese, bread and wine. Of the four salt was the most valuable since 1kg of salt cost roughly 1kg of gold (at times, salt can be more expensive than gold but you can't eat gold so salt was preferred as salary)
    – slebetman
    May 18, 2016 at 12:14
  • The English word salary is derived from the Latin word sal, meaning salt.
    – Jeffiekins
    May 18, 2016 at 19:04
  • I hesitate to say this, but if the question is really if the phrase "every journalist worth his salt" refers to the journalist or not, this question belongs on ELL, not ELU. I don't see how the question is about the origins of the phrase "worth one's salt".
    – Mr Lister
    May 18, 2016 at 19:12

1 Answer 1


Dale: Every journalist worth his or her salt (worth paying to do his or her job) should ask probing and challenging questions.

Dale is referring to the journalist.

We used to pay people in salt. That's where the word salary comes from. If you're worth your salt you're worth your pay.


Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French salarie, from Latin salarium, originally denoting a Roman soldier's allowance to buy salt, from sal ‘salt.’

google: etymology of the word salary

  • 4
    It's referring to the gender of any hypothetical astrologer. It's presuming them to be female. Traditionally male was presumed but the women's movement has come a long way. May 18, 2016 at 4:37
  • 5
    Yes. In the Middle Ages salt was a valuable and negotiable commodity. In Britain we sometimes refer to people being 'beneath the salt'. This means that they would be seated at a banqueting table beneath the point at which the salt was not allowed to pass. It is normally an expression of self-deprecation. *Think I'm beneath the salt in that company'.
    – WS2
    May 18, 2016 at 7:42
  • 2
    @JaegerJay In my experience, you usually see the gender-neutral "worth their salt" for the reason CandiedOrange mentions.
    – Cronax
    May 18, 2016 at 10:10
  • 13
    @slebetman, presumably either you went to school before Chaucer did, or your teacher was influenced by the relatively recent (18th century) fad of considering epicene they to be incorrect. That never stopped it being used, and indeed such teachers would often also teach texts like "Romeo and Juliet" that used they that way.
    – Jon Hanna
    May 18, 2016 at 12:46
  • 1
    @JaegerJay "one's" is appropriate when the impersonal or indefinite is appropriate. You can't reply to "I know someone who might be good for this job, would you be interested in hiring them?" with "if one is worth one's salt" but you can with "if they are worth their salt".
    – Jon Hanna
    May 20, 2016 at 23:55

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