Never Having To Say Sare

I wish all the stories from my life were glamorous and reflected nothing but the glory and the flying chocolately goodness of my sparkling soul. Alas, that’s not always the case, as you shall see below.

True story – many, many moons ago, on my very first day ever in the fabulous metropolis of Cluj-Napoca, I woke up on a morning much like today – crisp and cool but lots of sun. I wandered around, completely lost, until some kind of American homing beacon steered me towards a McDonald’s. I went in there and ordered a “meniu” or a complete serving of dead animals, fried potatoes and caramelized sugar water.

After sitting down to stuff this so-called “food” into my mouth, I discovered that the potatoes were not sufficiently salty to suit me. So I went up to the counter and did my best to ask for a packet of salt. The workers there spoke no English and my Spanish (sal) and Italian (sale) were of no help. I finally just pantomimed what I wanted, making a motion of delicate sprinkling until finally yes, the worker beamed and handed me a small white pack of salt.

I squinted at the writing on the packet and that, my friends, is how I learned the word sare, my second Romanian word ever.

In English, Romanian, Italian, Spanish and yes, even French, Russian, Hungarian and German (and many, many other language), the words we use for this substance come from the Latin (sal).

What a lot of people don’t know is just how many words we use today are based on this substance.

Anyone receiving a salary (Rom: salariu) is, in essence, receiving salt as payment for their work. This is because in the Roman times, salt was used as currency (money).

As you tour the Roman ruins throughout Italy today, you will certainly be spending soldi, the local word for money.

When doing business in Romania, be sure to balance your outstanding accounts (sold/solduri) or liquidate your remaining inventory.

When you sit down at lunch to eat your salad (Rom: salata), you’re technically eating salted vegetables. That’s because the Romans so regularly salted vegetables that saying “give me a bowl of the salted stuff” (salad) became shorthand for eating vegetables.

When you shine your boots and salute the flag as a common soldier (Rom: soldat), you are, in essence, working for salt. Tremendous empires (including the Roman one) used to pay their standing armies in salt and thus those receiving this pay became known as the “salted ones” (soldiers/soldati).

In English you have to work hard to earn your salt or be worth your salt. Anyone who is the salt of the earth in English is a good, honest person. But in Romanian (sarea pământului) it refers to something extremely precious. Indeed, the Romans expanded operations in several salt mines (Rom: saline) in this country precisely because the rock salt (salt of the Earth, as opposed to sea salt) was so valuable.

During these uncertain economic times we’re all now facing, be sure to maintain your finances so that you never get so poor that you can’t afford to salt your mamaliga (nu are nici sare de mamaliga)!

And if all this food talk gets you hungry, bake up a nice cake in Romania with sare de lămâie, literally “lemon salt” but more generally known as citric acid in English.

And while I presume that most people know that the sandwich (Rom: sendviș) is named after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, very few know the origin of name of the town in England which gave him his title. It comes from two Old English words – sand plus wich.

The sand part is evident if you’ve ever visited eastern Kent as the town is right on the water and indeed has a sandy beach. The “wich” part however refers to a trading market that sprung up around the salt making operations in the area. The salt was a valuable commodity which the locals used as currency long before the arrival of the Romans.

In fact, all the towns in English with “wich” in their name (Northwich, Droitwich, etc) are named for the Saxon salt trading markets in the area.


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