There is a common (IMOE) English idiom, "take with a grain (or pinch) of salt", meaning one should be skeptical about the information it accompanies. Many times in the last year I've heard others try to exaggerate the meaning by changing the amount of salt in the idiom, for example:

  • "I heard that restaurant is bad, but take it with a huge grain of salt"
  • "Parking in that part of town isn't difficult; take it with many grains of salt"
  • "Take it with an extremely tiny grain of salt, but my friend hated that movie."

I've understood this idiom to originate from an old antidote recipe, either real or allegorical. In this context, I don't understand how changing the amount of salt in the idiom changes its meaning. From conversational cues, I can sometimes distinguish whether the person means (1) "this isn't just hearsay, it's very unreliable" or (2) "I trust this source a lot, so it might be incorrect, but I doubt it". Many times, I cannot tell how the person means to change the idiom.

Question: Is there an explanation for the origin of this idiom which allows its meaning to change with the amount of salt described?

Follow-up: Is there a common understanding of the variances I've listed that have simply never been explained to me? E.g., more salt correlates with more suspicion warranted or vice/versa?

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    Regardless of the history of the idiom, 'grain of salt' now means 'some skepticism', and that can be modified. – AmI Aug 25 '17 at 21:42
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    Idioms tend to resist variation, but not as much as many might think. Here, I'd not consider (a) to sound unnatural, though it is whimsical (a huge grain?). But 'extremely tiny' ((c)) is outlandish per se; 'tiny' would be better. (b) just sounds contrived and clumsy. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 25 '17 at 21:44
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    I'd hyperbolize that idiom by saying "a ton of salt". In fact, I have said that. – anongoodnurse Aug 25 '17 at 21:50
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    I have certainly heard "take with a shitload of salt". – Hot Licks Aug 26 '17 at 1:26
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    a "Lot of salt" isn't idiomatically correct, but makes a cool Biblical reference. – barrycarter Aug 26 '17 at 2:36

The origin you can look up and we can discuss it. It is used as you say and so its usage it real. You may find people misusing it merely to emphasize what they hear and not to discount or throw doubt onto it.

Particularly •"I heard that restaurant is bad, but take it with a huge grain of salt" would mean that the doubt was great and place was wonderful while the tone made me think it was a terrible place.

To me if the speaker is altering the phrase I would think that they may not know how to use it but take that with a grain of salt.

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