Tag Archives: Words

A Grain of Salt (What Does That Mean?!)

Photo found here: http://www.grainofsalt.com/2010/10/what-does-with-a-grain-of-salt-even-mean/

“Take that with a grain of salt,” says your friend regarding somewhat dubious news. “I’d take that draft rumor with a grain of salt,” says the NFL Draft Expert, who says a lot of things. (Most of which apparently need salt…)

But what does it mean? Why do we say that? Where does it come from? What is the origin of that phrase, “Take it with a grain of salt”?

Let’s find out!

Taken With A Grain Of Salt

Apparently, we head (figuratively) all the way back to the first century. In the year 77 AD, a Roman author named Pliny (the Elder) shared the story of a Roman general, Pompey, in his book Naturalis Historia1, which included a “recipe” for an antidote against all poisons. (Impressive!)

In sancutariis Mithridatis, maximi regis, devicit Cn. Pompeius invenit in peculiari commentario ipsius manu conpositionem antidoti e II nucibus siccis, item ficis totidem et rutae foliis XX simul tritis, addito salis grano: ei, qui hoc ieiunus sumat, nullum venenum nociturum illo die.

(After the defeat of that mighty monarch, Mithridates, Gnaeus Pompeius found in his private cabinet a recipe for an antidote in his own handwriting; it was to the following effect: Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day.)2

Since the year 77 AD, some have (wrongly) used the Latin phrase, “cum grano salis”. But as you can see in the text above, Pliny wrote “addito salis grano”. (“With a grain of salt” just sounded better in English, so… we made it say that in Latin, too?)

There are two different views on what Pompey (or P. the E.) meant. One, the salt was an essential part of the potency of the antidote. Two, the salt just made it palatable enough to swallow, and thus receive the antidote’s protection against “all poisons”.

A third take on the usage of the phrase is as follows:

The Latin word salis means both “salt” and “wit”, so that the Latin phrase “cum grano salis” could be translated as both “with a grain of salt” and “with a grain (small amount) of wit”.3

Interesting! So it had a double meaning, as it does now. And, since we use it to mean something like, “this should be understood with some degree of skepticism, or doubt”, one could equate skepticism to wit, no?

Lastly, the first usage of the phrase, “This should be taken with a grain of salt” was found in a commentary on the book of Revelation, by John Trapp, published in 1647.4

And there you have it! But, since all of this information was pieced together from the articles referenced in the footer of this post, well, I think it should probably be taken with a grain of salt.


  1. Read the full Latin text of the story here, if you’re awesome enough.
  2. This Latin/English version was found in an article at WordOrigins.com
  3. Thank you, Wikipedia!
  4. You can find anything online these days!


tolkienThere is no word to describe what I’m attempting to put into words. The concept of capturing extant reality in written words when no words are used—nor in the true reality, are they necessary—in order to communicate by text or mere oration (and auditory-only experience of that oratory) the experience in its entirety. It’s so difficult, and yet so masterfully accomplished by J. R. R. Tolkien in his stories of Middle-earth.

My two oldest boys and I have been making the journey through Tolkien’s adventures, starting with the Hobbit and subsequently through the Lord of the Rings trilogy for probably the past two years. (We’re taking them at a Sunday Driver’s pace…) The worlds that this man must have seen in his mind’s eye, and the incredible attention to detail that he conveys through description and dialogue are truly, utterly astounding. At times it even feels like too much; there are moments when after a few pages of reading poetry in Elven tongues you begin to wonder, “What is the deal with this guy?”

But then there are moments where you almost feel you are not simply present with the characters, in the magical places—rather you feel as though you are one of them.

Of course this is the goal of anyone who puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), but how many can so well achieve this as has Mr. Tolkien? When you have a society in your name, you’ve probably made a name for yourself.

We’ve nearly reached the end of the third book in the LoTR series, and tonight’s chapter was just such an enjoyable read. Tolkien is bringing together several long, arduous journeys for so many characters through whom he has helped us live this adventure; their joys are ours, all that they are experiencing can be felt by the reader.

When I read the following paragraph, I stopped and commented to my son Ian, the aspiring author, observing that what Tolkien is able to do is to put into words things which have no words. He assembles (even creates) just the right words to allow the reader to enter the entirety of the moment. Not only does he elaborately describe a lush environment in all its fullness, but he also so perfectly captures the emotions and even the reasons for the emotions without “spelling it out” … rather he brings it to life.

‘A great Shadow has departed’, said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.

If Artists did not exist who could master the words to somehow so beautifully capture the fullness of that moment, it might have gone something like this:

‘A great Shadow has departed’, said Gandalf, with a laugh, a sound which Sam had not heard for a long time, as their journey had been so full of sadness, toil, and hardship. The sound made him glad, but Sam began to cry. After a while, his tears ceased and he too began to laugh. Then he got out of bed.

One of these things is not like the other …

I remain awe-struck at the way Tolkien not only paints a vivid picture using words, he really creates a wordality. (A reality brought to life—as near as possible—with only words.) The way the emotions of the moment are described in that paragraph, to think to describe the depth of the joy as laughter “[falling] upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known”, is much more engaging and colorful and real than, “The sound made him glad”.

(It’s quite obvious that I am no J. R. R. Tolkien!)

While words can never capture the fullness of experience, there truly is power in words, and I am becoming a firm believer that J. R. R. was one of the finest word craftsmen/artists/story-tellers ever to have breathed our air.

I shall greatly miss Middle-earth when we finally complete our reading of The Return of The King. I may have to delve into one of the sundry other works of Tolkien that rest quietly on my shelves, anticipating their turn to share the worlds which they contain.

The wordalities I myself endeavor to create may not be as complete and vivid as Tolkien’s, but I will nonetheless continue with ardent fealty my quest to capture with words the thoughts that are stirred in my heart and mind, ruminate in my soul, crescendoing within the depths of my being from the simplest melodies to the most elaborate symphonies; becoming then all the more enjoyable when shared with a fellow Word Enthusiast and Lover of Locution, like you.

The End of The Aught

For whatever reason, I’ve taken to using the words “aught nine” to describing the end of this year, and even this decade. (Well, the “aught” part.) And lately, Jen was quite confused by my usage of the archaic term… so I explained it to her, but then realized it was odd enough that I should do some investigating myself.

Turns out, many others are confused as well. Is it “ought,” or is it “aught?” Well, from this source, a page attempting to help court reporters know the meaning of words that sound the same (homonyms) so they put the right one into the report … the correct spelling would be “aught.”

Since my sister-in-law is a court reporter to be … I’m gonna trust that answer. She’s pretty smart, so must be right… 🙂

Only a couple weeks left of the aught… then we’re on to the… tens? Teens? What will it be?

I guess it will be the tens, since the world will end just before the teens. 🙂

A Picture of 54,000 Words

GregsHead.net Words from 2008 - Thanks to Wordle.net

I followed a link to a pretty fun site yesterday. It’s called Wordle, and lets you take any text, or URL, or feed from any site and make a random word picture from the text that you give it. Very fun, actually!

I did a couple more images. First, when I just took the text and pasted it in, the biggest word was “just”. Ha! Guess I just say that a lot… 😉 So, here’s the JUST version. And, I took the “Life With God” posts and made this image from that.

I also discovered that I have written approximately 54,800 words in the year 2008. (That’s to my GregsHead.net blog alone, does not include all my other sites!) I have … a lot to say.

Anyone can do it… with any text. Jen made some with the names of our family. 🙂 Go try it out for yourself…


Great Words!

I have noticed lately that I use a lot of words that are not really words. Including quite often on this blog! I noticed that a commercial I saw also used one of these psuedo english words. They are words formed from the incorrect pronunciation of two or more words. I figured it might be fun to compile a list of the ones I like the best, and use most frequently. Feel free to add to the list in the comments 🙂

  • gonna (going to)
  • lemme (let me)
  • musta (must have)
  • wanna (want to)
  • imunna (I’m going to)

I’ll add some more as I remember them… 🙂

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means…

One more quick post…

I’ve been doing laundry tonight, in between blog posts (and reading other blogs/sites). Our dryer has three settings for the automatic drying cycles. There is Less Dry, More Dry, and Optimum Dry. Now, unless I am not remembering the correct definition for the word “optimum“… when would you ever not choose “Optimum Dry”?