The world's languages are grouped into families, the theory being that the languages of one family arose from a common ancestor. Many of the Western European ones fall under the Indo-European group, this includes Latin and its descendants, the Romance languages, as well as the Germanic and Scandinavian ones (Finnish being an exception).
Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is believed to have been spoken around four to seven thousand years ago, there is no literary record and it has been reconstructed from its descendants.
The PIE word for salt was *sal. (The asterisk is used in linguistics to denote a form that has been assumed as there is no actual written record.) The reason for this post is that I was struck the other day by how many words in English derive from this rather humble noun.
The Latin derivation was sal, the Greek equivalent was hal. This follows standard practice, many words in Latin beginning with S started with H in Greek (this is somewhat simplified as it was more of a breathy sound at the start of a word than a traditional English H as in house). For example, the Latin for six was sex as in sextuplets but in Greek we have hex as in hexagon.
But back to salt - here are some of the words we use to today that derive from the Latin sal or the Greek hal:
- Salary: from the Latin salarius, an amount soldiers were paid which literally meant salt money, possibly slang in the way beer tokens is used jocularly for money today
- Halogens: from the Greek meaning salt generator - a group in the periodic table including chlorine and fluorine that produce salts, common salt being the one produced when sodium and chlorine combine
- Salad: from Latin salata meaning salted and used in the expression herba salata meaning salted vegetables
- Sauce/salsa: again from Latin meaning salted or spicy in the sense of making food salty, salsa means sauce in Spanish and the dance is named after that for being metaphorically saucy
- Sausage: salted meat, the root is more clearly seen in salami and also is part of the French stew of spiced meats called salmagundi
- Saltpetre/saltpeter: potassium nitrate, one of the components of gunpowder, it looks like salt encrusted rock (peter)
- Silt: arrived via Scandinavian and/or Germanic languages meaning sediment deposited by salt water
- Souse: to pickle something, via Germanic languages, by extension meaning drunk
So there you are, next time you tuck into a sausage, a salad or add some sauce, remember it all started with sal.