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According to author Mark Kurlansky ( Concise Oxford Dictionary: A biography of a fish that changed the world ), what substance etymologically binds the words soldier and salad?

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Answer: salt

According to Kurlansky's book Salt - A World History:

"The Roman army required salt for its soldiers and for its horses and livestock. At times soldiers were even paid in salt, which was the origin of the word salary and the expressions worth his salt andearning his salt. In fact, the Latin word sal became the French word solde, meaning pay, which is the origin of the word soldier. Furthermore: "The Romans salted their greens, believing this to counteract their natural bitterness, which is the origin of the word salad, salted."

Note: this question works as a question because it is "according to Mark Kurlansky" - so salt is the correct answer because that's what Kurlansky says the etymologies are. Unfortunately, the question doesn't work factually because, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word soldier actually derives from the Latin word solidus, which denotes a solid gold coin from the later Roman Empire.

Thus far I have been unable to find any source that shows that solidus derives from a Latin root that is related to salt - though because of the silimilarity between sol and sal, it sounds like it should.

If anyone can set me straight on this, please email me at:


You're right to challenge Kurlansky. These really do come from two different Indo-European roots, ones that (unusually) haven't changed their form: salary < sal-; soldier < sol - 'solidus', whence 'soldier' is cognate with 'solid.'

Kurlansky might have become confused by the army story connected to 'salary.' Or (and this is more complex) by the fact that the sol - root does, in fact, have a variant form sal - (from the zero-grade form). But the words that come via that route (pun intended) are related to Latin 'salvus' (safe), whence also salvage, salvo, save; and 'salus' (health), whence salutary, salute.

This confusion shows why historical linguists are so picky about the connections they draw. It's not enough for the sounds to resemble each other. The roots must match sound and meaning, and make sense as part of the reconstructed chain of sound changes that have occurred in the past. For confirmation, see Calvert Watkins's appendix on Indo-European roots in the American Heritage dictionary.
Karl Hagen

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