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Someone I know was talking about 600gb hard drives and his description of the cost was "salty". When I asked him to clarify, he told me it meant that they were expensive. I have searched and can't find any reference to it being used that way. Where does that definition originate? Is it a regionalism?

  • In Turkish, we use 'Tuzlu' which means salty. – Mehper C. Palavuzlar Sep 7 '11 at 14:27
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    There are a couple of references on urbandictionary.com that refer to salty as being something that is "unreasonably/extremely expensive but possibly desirable" - but they have too few and largely negative votes to be counted as fact IMO. – MrWhite Sep 7 '11 at 14:36
  • Coincidentally, I happened to say last night that at under £50, 1.5tb (1500gb) drives are now cheap as chips. Someone else said that if global food prices keep rising, pretty soon they'll be cheaper than chips. :) – FumbleFingers Sep 7 '11 at 16:05
  • I've heard salty being used more as a synonym for unpleasant (and antonym of sweet). So in the context of purchasing something then salty would indeed indicate unpleasantly expensive but it's not associated with cost per se. – user24964 Oct 24 '13 at 11:45
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    "Salty" language is obscene, and high prices are also obscene. – Hot Licks Apr 27 '15 at 20:54
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The opposite of "salty" in this context would be "sweet" (for the buyer), that is cheap.

"Salty" (especially in excess), implies "unpleasant," which (for a buyer) in turn implies "expensive."

  • +1 for noting the contextually-suitable antonym sweet, though I don't think either word is used very often in relation to prices (sweet at least somewhat more, perhaps). There's also sting[ing] used in relation to high prices, which could echo rubbing salt in the wound – FumbleFingers Sep 7 '11 at 15:23
  • I believe these are "figures of speech," as opposed to "accepted" English usage. – Tom Au Sep 7 '11 at 15:49
  • I believe "figures of speech" and "accepted usage" are not in any meaningful sense mutually exclusive. Personally I do not consider "accepted usage" even excludes slang or profanity, though others may take issue with that. Not that I ever mentioned "accepted usage" - I simply said that neither of these metaphorical usages are particularly common. – FumbleFingers Sep 7 '11 at 15:58
  • It makes sense to say that a cheap good item is 'sweet', but having never heard the OP's usage, even with the logical explanation, 'salty' just doesn't feel like the opposite or expensive. – Mitch Apr 27 '15 at 21:52
  • Actually, the opposite of "sweet" is generally considered to be "sour". – Hot Licks Jul 27 '17 at 22:52
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Although an old question I feel I might have something to add to the above answers and possibly help other confused visitors.

I don't know if 'salty' is used in the same sense in other languages, but at least here in Finland, we might use it like your friend did: "This apartment is way too small for the rent to be that salty", meaning that the rent of the apartment is too pricy and doesn't correspond to its surface area.

So if your friend was foreign (perhaps Finnish) he would have used a literal translation from Finnish to English in his sentence. It sounds a bit off in English because it's not a known or, at least not commonly, used phrase.

  • A very similar expression is used in Italian too, if something is salato = salty, it is "high" in price. – Mari-Lou A Apr 27 '15 at 21:43
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I've never heard this in a modern context, but in that past, salt used to be a very valuable mineral (because of it's abilities to preserve food), so maybe to say something is "salty" is to say it is valuable, like salt, though this might have made more sense hundreds of years ago.

  • Another reference is here: time.com/3957460/a-brief-history-of-salt. Salt was valuable as a food preservative for winters, and as an antiseptic. During wartime, one would attack an enemy's salt reserves, in an attempt to starve them out in winter. – jimm101 Nov 21 '18 at 13:16
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Its origin might be related to the high cost salt had in the past. In Spain "salty" is an expression frequently used (En esa tienda los precios son salados = In that store prices are salty), so it might have been a literal translation of that expression?

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The most common slang meaning closely related to OP's example is salty = crude, [slightly] pornographic. The high, excessive meaning intended here is very similar, but I think this usage is not widespread.

I haven't looked anything up, but I imagine that in earlier times before widespread refrigeration, canning, etc., it would be quite common for foodstuffs to be excessively salty. This would quite naturally lead to a strong association between the word salty and the concept of excess.

Possibly fanciful, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that children's well-known aversion to highly-flavoured foods might have encouraged the salty = smutty sense (not suitable for the young ones).

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Given the context of talking about hard drives, it is possible the usage came from the gaming world. Although several sources talk about potential origins of the phrase, personal experience and some other sources make me think that currently this term is mostly used in the gaming world to mean "upset" because they are being beaten, sometimes to the point of toxicity (verbal and textual abuse of other players).

The impression I would have if someone described a hard drive price as "salty" would be that having to pay that price would make them "salty," or upset to the point of pouting about it.

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