Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Episode 70: Take It With A Grain Of Salt Transcript

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We used Temi to auto transcribe this. If you notice anything confusing, please send Dan an email at bunny trails pod at gmail dot com. 

Dan:                                       00:00                     Well, welcome to bunny trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. I'm Dan Pugh
Shauna:                                00:05                     and I'm Shauna Harrison. Each week we delve into the origin and history of an idiom or other turn of phrase and discuss how it's been used over time. This week I'm going to say a lot of random nonsense, so you'll just have to take everything I say with a grain of salt.
Dan:                                       00:20                     Oh, I see. I would in my head I was wondering, well how's that different than any other week, but now I get it. It was part of your opener.
Shauna:                                00:28                     Yeah, I'm working on them.
Dan:                                       00:32                     All right, fair enough. I like it.
Shauna:                                00:33                     So actually one of our awesome listeners requested today's idiom. Chris was in class and heard his instructor use the phrase and he asked us to quote, do our thing and share what we learned.
Dan:                                       00:45                     All right. Well what did you learn while researching this one?
Shauna:                                00:49                     Well, take it with a grain of salt is a very popular phrase and for most people it means that you are going to kind of use your own wisdom when listening to certain people talk or share their knowledge.
Dan:                                       01:03                     Because they are not trustworthy or because they have a bias, right?
Shauna:                                01:07                     Correct. So this phrase is going to take us back in time and we'll be reading a little bit of Latin.
Dan:                                       01:16                     I will be listening to a little bit of Latin. You will be reading Latin,
Shauna:                                01:21                     There are some really wonderful theories associated with this phrase. Uh, but first let's, let's figure out what that Latin is. And it is Cum Grano Salis. And word for word that translates to with, grain, and salt. Uh, so with a grain of salt. However, as we know, translation doesn't actually work that way as far as the word for word thing goes. But it does actually lead to the first theory that I want to discuss. And I sort of love this one because it works so well in storytelling. Imagine you are a Roman from a long, long time ago.
Dan:                                       01:58                     Okay. Wait. All right, got it.
Shauna:                                02:01                     All right.
Dan:                                       02:02                     I have lead poisoning by the way. And probably syphilis or gonorrhea or something. I don't know.
Shauna:                                02:07                     Scurvy?
Dan:                                       02:07                     No, probably not Scurvy.
Shauna:                                02:09                     Ah, so you want someone to consider what another person says before just taking it as fact.
Dan:                                       02:13                     Oh wow. This one apparently has something to do with today still.
Shauna:                                02:18                     You might want to tell them to use their brain or their wits. And you might even say to take things with a little bit of wit and wit in Latin is Sal, S A L and that is the same root word as salt in Latin.
Dan:                                       02:35                     Huh. So could one theory would be it is a mistranslation of "take this with a little bit of wit."
Shauna:                                02:43                     Yes. Um, the so because that same word translates and Salis is actually the genitive of Sal. So it's, it's the same word.
Dan:                                       02:52                     Are we doing this thing that I hate when you do, when you present something, but then it's actually not factually accurate, but now I've thought that it was accurate. Are we doing that right now?
Shauna:                                03:02                     I... Did I do that? I said theories.
Dan:                                       03:05                     Is this right or not right?
Shauna:                                03:08                     No, this is not right.
Dan:                                       03:08                     Yes, Then you did that thing. You did that thing that I said last episode. I hate when you do.
Shauna:                                03:12                     Okay. No, no, no, no, no. I said this is a theory. Okay. One theory that's not accurate.
Dan:                                       03:20                     Fortunately, our listeners are much smarter than we are about taking what we say with a bit of grain of salt, which is why we cite all of our sources.
Shauna:                                03:29                     Yes. Uh, all right, so, uh, if you were to consider this, that originally it started to take things with a little bit of wit and that turned into over time and mistranslations, um, in to take it with a grain of salt
Dan:                                       03:48                     except that it didn't.
Shauna:                                03:51                     Yeah. Yeah. It just doesn't work that way guys. That's not what translating is. Let's move on to another theory and this is a really good one. We're going to go back in time all the way to the first century CE and this is to the time of the great Roman author naturalist and natural philosopher, Naval and army commander of the early Roman empire and friend of emperor Vespasian. . I'm speaking of course about Pliny the elder.
Dan:                                       04:19                     Oh yes. Well Pliny... That man. Good stuff sometimes. Really bad stuff most of the time. He probably tried hard.
Shauna:                                04:30                     So I you know, he wrote one book a lot. He really wrote that book,
Dan:                                       04:35                     Wrote a lot of stuff in it. So what point, what all has Pliny said?
Shauna:                                04:40                     well, he's been quoted with quotes like... He's been quoted with quotes... hahaha
Dan:                                       04:44                     Yeah, we do a word history podcast. We're so good with words
Shauna:                                04:49                     Pliny's been credited with quotes such as "home is where the heart is". "The only certainty is that nothing is certain", and "fortune favors the brave or bold". Yeah. Great. Right. Okay. So in his Magnum Opus, see what I did there. Throw in that Latin Latin. Yeah.
Dan:                                       05:05                     Oh, okay. Yep.
Shauna:                                05:08                     All right. Magnum Opus means greatest work. So that would be that big book that we were talking about, which is called natural history. It's an encyclopedia and Pliny the elder shared what was believed to be a cure for poison, which contained a grain of salt.
Dan:                                       05:25                     If you have ever listened to the saw bones podcast, which is a, uh, a medical history talking about all of the crazy things that we used to do in medicine they will talk at end about how plenty of the elder had all kinds of cures for all kinds of things. Most of them involving like Rams hearts placed topically or something. Yeah,
Shauna:                                05:45                     it's pretty fun. Uh, so the story goes when Mithra Dottie's was defeated by Pompei, a notebook was found in the King's own hand with a prescription for an antidote, which consisted of only two dried walnuts, two figs and 20 leaps of rue pounded together with a pinch of salt. Uh, that's just one version. There are.
New Speaker:                    06:09                     very many versions of that same story out there. Uh, it makes me want to learn Latin so that I can even more Latin so that I can just like read the whole thing for myself.
Dan:                                       06:17                     Right. We both went to school in America where Latin is not something that is taught to children.
Shauna:                                06:22                     Yeah. I just learned like popular words and phrases in Latin.
Dan:                                       06:27                     Right. I would argue that English obviously isn't taught very effectively given the fact that how we see how many of us read and write English.
Shauna:                                06:35                     It's really complicated though.
Dan:                                       06:37                     It is difficult language. I did not, I do not wish I was in the role of English teachers. Those who teach either English as a, as a foreign language or even those that teach it as a first language because Oh my goodness, that has gotta be a really difficult job.
Shauna:                                06:56                     So, uh, one thing I also want to note about this whole thing, there's, there are a variety of versions of the story, but a lot of them, like they have the same recipe or one that's similar and all of them have Rue in it. At least all the translations I could find. And that, let me just tell you that Rue is not a medicine. Um, it's kind of a toxin. It can cause like liver and kidney damage and upset stomach rashes. It makes you more sensitive. To the sun like blistery type awful things.
Dan:                                       07:24                     I would argue that there was not a single thing in that, um, in that ingredient list that he had, the walnuts, the figs and the brew with salt, not a single one of those as medicine.
Shauna:                                07:36                     I mean like if you have a lot of salt, like if you make saltwater, it's like a natural, amedic, right?
Dan:                                       07:42                     Oh, I'm sure if you eat lots of figs, it'll make you poop. But I don't know why that gets to count as medicine.
Shauna:                                07:46                     Fair enough. Uh, right. So don't, don't have the room. I'd just say like maybe he, he died because he used that recipe.
Dan:                                       07:56                     No, he died because he died in the Mount Vesuvius. He died from breathing in those fumes.
Shauna:                                08:02                     Oh, you think Pompey pump..
Dan:                                       08:04                     Pompei no. Yes. No, that is exactly when he died. Recording that very event.
Shauna:                                08:10                     Well, Pliny did but not Mithridates
Dan:                                       08:13                     Oh, I thought we were talking about Pilny. I have no idea how Mithridates died. I've never even heard that name until just now.
Shauna:                                08:19                     What I thought was cool is, so Mithridates is actually has this mythical antidote that had some 56 or whatever number of ingredients, but clearly Pliny didn't find that recipes.
Dan:                                       08:32                     Nice. All right, well let's move on to this phrase.
Shauna:                                08:36                     Yes. So, um, another version of the story is that that Pompey was the one who had the recipe and he actually, um, would take this, he would actually use this poison with a grain of salt. And, um, he would drink that, uh, slowly, every in order to like prevent against poisoning to become, not susceptible to it anymore.
Dan:                                       09:01                     Yeah. The dread pirate Roberts used to do that too with IEK powder.
Shauna:                                09:04                     Yeah. That's the one. And so much of this reminded me of that story actually. I love it. Uh, okay. So whether the salt mitigated the effects of the poison or made it easier to swallow, uh, more importantly than the specifics of the story or the source of the ingredients list is the specifics of the phrase itself. Um, rather than Cum Grano salis. Uh, what Pliny actually wrote in the book was addito salis grano, which translates approximately to after adding a grain of salt or with the addition of a grain of salt. And that's actually more consistent with classical Latin grammar. So as opposed to our, you know, European-ish grammar style of, with a grain of salt. So ultimately it's likely that pliny was using this in a more literal culinary context rather than a figurative message about spoons full of sugar.
Dan:                                       09:56                     Yeah. That seems, that seems fair.
Shauna:                                09:58                     Yes. Um, now while that's fun and funny, it actually seems to be the most likely origin for the combination of the words that turned into the phrase. So yeah, it's pretty cool. Um, if not the direct source of the idiom, word for word. Um, yeah, we do know how things can morph and change over time. Um, and the concept is really what was being passed along.
Dan:                                       10:19                     So we don't really know where this came from, but it may have its roots in a misreading of something that pliny wrote.
Shauna:                                10:29                     Oh, well it conceptually the, the, the phrase was used from Pliny and continued on in the Latin. Um, as far as the English phrase though, um, let's get to those Dietz, the word grain started to be seen in regular use in the English language around 1200 CE to refer to small particles of just about anything. And then regular use of our phrase became, began in the 16 hundreds. Oxford English dictionary gives us the definition with a grain of salt, modern of the Latin cum grano salis to accept a statement with a certain amount of reserve. Also in similar phrases. Now, especially with a pinch of salt. In 1647, John Trapp wrote in a commentary of exposition upon the epistles and the revelation of John the divine. This is to be taken with a grain of salt.
Dan:                                       11:29                     Is this the first time we see this attested then in English and in the figurative way?
Shauna:                                11:35                     Yes, it is. And in that, you know, order with those specific words. Then again, just a couple of years later, just sigh as shoot wrote in Sarah and Hagar or Genesis, the 16th chapter opened in 19 sermons.
Dan:                                       11:50                     That is too many sermons.
Shauna:                                11:53                     I agreed. Read them then, but with such a grain of salt as an as intimated. And so this is the second time that it's being seen, uh, associated with biblical evaluative writings, uh, like sermon. So I thought that was kind of interesting. Take all that with a grain of salt. The May 1st, 1846 edition of the Charlotte journal out of Charlotte, North Carolina shared this story and this was an exchange in a courtroom. Mr Winthrop says, sir, these hearings the day after an injury received are to be listened to with an ear almost, if not altogether closed. These are to be taken with many grains of salt.
Dan:                                       12:35                     I liked the, I liked the mini grains of salt because it's very, it becomes very difficult over time to understand an idiom when the idiom is an idiom based off of another idiom. And so it just gets idiomified as it goes along.
Shauna:                                12:52                     Idiomized?
Dan:                                       12:52                     Oh I like that, that sounds ominous
Shauna:                                12:53                     kinda like that. It's similar to atomize.
Dan:                                       12:55                     Oh yes, it gets idomized
Shauna:                                12:58                     Hmm. It's idiomelogical?
Dan:                                       13:00                     Nope, Nope. I was perfectly fine with idiomized. The idiomelogical. I don't know what word you said, but no
Shauna:                                13:09                     Oh that's awesome. In 1883 in the American and national journal out of Philadelphia, there was an article about a gentleman was titled an extremist and we may add more or less salt to his expressions. I thought that one was kind of entertaining cause if we were to say something like that today, I don't think we'd be implying the same thing. Cause here it's kind of this idea that his expressions were overly dramatic. Right. But salty expressions today would be like, you know, kind of bitter sass or something.
Dan:                                       13:46                     Yeah. So this was a mixing of idioms and this one, yeah.
Shauna:                                13:50                     In the Eagle, the June 5th, 1895 edition out of silver city, New Mexico, the big reward has not been claimed. The statement that he is dead may be taken with a large sized grain of salt. And that one, again, kind of adding a little bit more emphasis to the phrase. Then in the December 22nd, 1899 holiday supplement edition of the Lincoln County leader, uh, this is out of Toledo in Lincoln County, Oregon. And this is a short little short little poem called the wife on new years. When she hears him say he'll swear off every fault, she takes it in a quiet way and with a grain of salt.
Dan:                                       14:35                     Okay, well that's fair. That's a smart person. Clever.
Shauna:                                14:42                     A little further on 1908 in the Athenaeum was, this was a literary magazine out of London. Our reasons for not accepting the authors pictures of early Ireland without many grains of salt. Um, I want to visit Ireland and every story I've heard describes it with this like total beauty and like this just like sounds like a chill place to go. But now I'm wondering what this person might've claimed that made people question them so much. So the usage and adaptations or hyperboles of the phrase continue at all the way through today in the United States. Um, as I learned however, and how you might have noticed the phrases slightly different across the pond where the more common version is to take things with a pinch of salt. So here are two examples of that.
Dan:                                       15:32                     I'm sure our, our, our new listeners will recognize our Americanized accent. So when we say across the pond, we mean England, not England coming across the pond to us or the UK or great Britain. I apologize. I don't know the difference. I can't be bothered. I'm pretty sure the world only revolves around America. That's what I was taught in school.
Shauna:                                15:50                     I love how you're like, I'm sorry and I can't be bothered.
Dan:                                       15:56                     Oh, Oh yes. In America. We also apologize for things when we're not actually apologizing at all.
Shauna:                                16:02                     Oh goodness. All right. In 1948, Frank Richard Cowell wrote Cicero and the Roman Republic. A more critical spirit slowly developed so that Cicero and his friends took more than the proverbial pinch of salt before swallowing everything written by these earlier authors. And then in 1949, Victor Grove wrote in language bar. Even if we accept such a statement with a pinch of salt, it is an indisputable fact that its writer did look upon Latin as a guiding mistress despite how many centuries this phrase has been around. The overall change has been fairly minimal. Um, but it is clear that whether using a grain of pinch or entire buckets, salt issued to help one discern the validity of another's claims.
Dan:                                       16:52                     Well, today's show is sponsored by our patrons. According to the Oxford English dictionary says that 13 hundreds the word patron has meant a person standing in a role of oversight, protection, or sponsorship to another. Patron comes from the Latin word for father patior. Then becoming Patronis, meaning champion or protector, then to patron, meaning one who sponsors something like a patron of the arts. Leonardo DaVinci was able to make his art thanks to patrons like Midichi and Shazier Borgia bunny trails is able to continue thanks to our awesome patrons including Pat Rowe and Mary Lopez. If you want to become a patron of bunny trails and get cool perks like early access to episodes behind the scenes content, monthly mini episodes and more, you can visit us at or find links to it and everything else we do at
Shauna:                                17:48                     So as said, one of the really neat things that I found is that the phrase continues to be used in multiple forms. Um, and over the last several decades especially, um, I found examples of grain of salt, pinch of salt and Cum Grano, salis all being used on social media, in articles and on all kinds of platforms. One great item I found is the popular meme. That whole keep calm and.
Dan:                                       18:14                     all right, keep calm and carry on. Keep calm and do this. Yes, yes.
Shauna:                                18:17                     And this one, uh, in this case it said keep calm and Cum grano Salis or the keep calm in English, so.
Dan:                                       18:24                     Oh right. Yeah. I like to keep calming. Carpe diem. Exactly.
Shauna:                                18:30                     Cum Grano salis is also a restaurant in San Paolo de Civi Tata, a town in Southeast Italy. Um, the menu looks pretty amazing. It's got lots of fresh seafood and pasta dishes and their hours are 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM to 10:30 PM.
Dan:                                       18:48                     Oh my goodness. I listen, I love the idea of a siesta. I really do. Except when I'm visiting Italy and I'm all like what do I do from like three to seven, right. Cause I'm hungry and stuff and like I want to go to the Galileo museum but it's close. I want to do this or that or Oh my goodness. I think I just sat and drank Magners everywhere. That's pretty much what I did.
Shauna:                                19:11                     Yeah. Cause like pretty much bars are open pubs. Yeah. Cum Grano Salis is also a play that was performed May 18th, 2019 at 7:00 PM there was only one performance
Dan:                                       19:25                     that is 2100 is 9:00 PM
Shauna:                                19:28                     ah, what did I say?
Dan:                                       19:29                     You said seven. Do you know you use 24 hour format?
Shauna:                                19:33                     You know what? I actually only use 24 hour formats usually and so I was trying to translate on the fly.
Dan:                                       19:39                     We saw 21 nine and thought 9, and 19 is seven very circuitous way to get to that and probably it's not even relevant frankly. A very interesting look into the way your brain works,
Shauna:                                19:56                     Yeah. It's weird in here. Um, no but 9:00 PM which actually is kind of significant cause it's like nighttime was the point in fortress Cogito. This was a site specific play which will change your perception of the Castillo fortress and introduce you to the history, cultural heritage and artistic works of stone in a spectacular blend of audio. Visual technology is interactive installations, impressive projections, light show pyrotechnics and live performances. A spectacular sensory experience which transports you to a dreamlike place where time has stopped.
Dan:                                       20:35                     This sounds very much like too much sensory for me.
Shauna:                                20:38                     Maybe the tourist board of stone shares. It is our great honor to host you here in the unique environment, which stone can offer. This medieval little town with whose history reaches back as far as the 14th century. It is a small town with the longest Stonewall in Europe with narrow quiet streets, Noble ancient houses, and with traces of ancient cultures. Its former value as a salt city gets confirmed even today in the plants of the oldest active Saltworks in the world. These salt works have remained faithful to the tradition and to the natural way of salt production, which has not changed since remote ages.
Dan:                                       21:21                     Yeah, very interesting.
Shauna:                                21:22                     Yeah, so they're a,
Dan:                                       21:23                     what was the, how long was the longest Stonewall in Europe? Did they, did you see that in your research?
Shauna:                                21:28                     Yes, five and a half kilometers.
Dan:                                       21:30                     Oh, that doesn't seem that long. Nope. It doesn't seem like that long. I stopped and went, wait. Yeah. No, still no. Five kilometers really isn't that long unless I'm running it. Five kilometers isn't that long.
Shauna:                                21:44                     Yeah. Well, it's definitely real long if you're trying to run,
Dan:                                       21:47                     I suppose if it's in Europe, there's a lot of places that are really tiny. I mean you can drive for two hours in Europe and be in like eight different States or you could do that in Texas and not even be out of the same quadrant of Texas.
Shauna:                                21:59                     All right. Let's see. A couple of examples of pinch of salt in 2003 the song a Wolf at the door by Radiohead, which comes from the album hall, hail to the thief and it includes the lyrics. Take it with the love it's given. Take it with a pinch of salt, take it to the tax man. Let me back. Let me back. I promise to be good. Yeah. The lyrics don't make any sense and I couldn't share any before or after that cause they have too many curse words,
Dan:                                       22:26                     right? Oh no. I mean Radiohead. Lyrics oftentimes don't make sense when ti, well, a lot like an idiom when taken by themselves, they don't make a lot of sense. But then when you put the whole song together it suddenly there's at least a theme there. It's kind of like Bob Dylan.
Shauna:                                22:41                     Yeah. Hmm. Good point. A pinch of salt is also a page on Twitter. It's @apinchofsalt just to speech and language therapists, salts attempting to be the change we want to see.
Dan:                                       22:55                     Well, that's very clever. I like that.
Shauna:                                22:57                     And now one last example of a grain of salt and this is a blog called a grain of salt and Felicity shares in her introduction. What do I want to write about? I want to be a reminder that we should take time to think things through for ourselves and not just take the opinions of others I've seen in every type of person, the desire to keep what they have and to be content with it. If they strive after something more, they might lose everything. If you aren't striving, you aren't living and if you aren't living, you're dying. The warning, take it with a grain of salt, gets across what I'm thinking.
Dan:                                       23:31                     That is a very popular opinion of life. Not, not one I personally share, but I uh, I appreciate Felicity's ability to, uh, make clear what she believes.
Shauna:                                23:44                     Yes, definitely.
Shauna:                                23:45                     I even just, her, her short introduction was pretty fascinating and she's clearly on a journey of, of self discovery. This phrase is really wonderful, the fun history and the use in multiple countries for centuries. And that shared understanding. Um, it just makes it a great idiom. I'm really thankful to the listener who suggested this one. I've had it on my list since we started this whole adventure, but I just didn't know if I'd find that much. Um, I was pleasantly surprised. And so while typically we talk about plinty the elder and his unique ability to entirely miss the point, but this time he actually seems to have provided us with a phrase that is lasting millennia. So good job. Plenty on that one. Um, so, Oh yeah. And now I'm ready to travel the world. Uh, I know at least one phrase that most people will understand and I only have to learn the Latin. So there you go. Uh, usually idioms though are released so specific to an area that they are total jibberish to people from other areas. And this is a sort of the opposite because it has managed to embed itself into so many languages and countries and it's truly amazing and um, one of the ways in which I find those commonalities across languages and cultures to be rather comforting. Well that about wraps us up for today. Thank you so much for joining us. We've only got two more episodes left in 2019 and season two of our show. Thank you so much to everyone for listening and supporting our show.
Dan:                                       25:24                     Word of mouth is still the best way to grow a podcast. So please tell your friends and family about bunny trails. If you want to chat more about the show or phrases and their stories in general, you can join the community on Patrion. You'll find the link to that and everything else we Thanks again for joining us. We'll talk to you again next week. Until then, remember,
New Speaker:                    25:45                     words belong to their users.

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