Pass the salt

“I took a lot of these feuilletons around to different publishers, and was rejected everywhere: “You don’t have enough salt,” they told me.

“What kind of salt do you want?” I ask with scorn. “Attic salt?”

He doesn’t even understand.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Bobok (1873)

See Mehak Anwar’s piece for Bustle of 24/7/15 for the current popular use of “salty”. Less recently, as in Dostoyevsky’s short story, it was applied to the slightly offensive humour that the writer’s potential publishers require.

“Attic salt” is a calque, ie a word for word translation, of sal Atticus or sal Atticum, the Attic peninsula being a historical region that encompasses the city of Athens.

The ten Attic orators were considered the greatest orators and logographers of the classical era (5th-4th Century BC). Their work inspired the later rhetorical movement of Atticism, an approach to speech composition in a simple rather than ornate style.

In classical times, salt was a frequent metaphor for wit.

“Koznyshev, who knew better than anyone how at the end of a most abstract and serious debate unexpectedly to administer a grain of Attic salt and thereby to change his interlocutor’s frame of mind, did so now.”

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina (1918) transl. Louise and Aylmer Maude

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