above the salt


Senior Member
Chinese,Cantonese,Sichuan dialect
Context and Question:

In today's class, the teacher introduced a word:

Above the salt

And he also gave a sentence:

Jone was taken up above the salt.

I looked the term up in some of the mainstream dictionaries and I found no results, but I saw a ray of hope when I turned to OED:

above (or below, beneath, under) the salt: at the upper (or lower) part of the table, i.e. among the more honoured (or less honoured) guests.

I also got around 53,100 results in google, but I don't know whether the term is still in current use, may I have your opinion?

How I think:

I figured out the term has something to do with "salt cellar", and I guess "salt cellar" is still workable, and the term "above the salt" is also available, right?
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I wouldn't say it's at all well known; I only know of it because of Steeleye Span's album Below the Salt, which (I suppose from memory) explained the term. I'm fairly sure I've never heard the expressions with either 'above' or 'below' in use other than there. It's from the fact that only the privileged tables in a mediaeval hall had access to the salt. More detail is available at the reliable website phrases.org.uk: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/below-the-salt.html


    Senior Member
    British English
    In order to be sat "above the salt", you need to attend a dinner that is formal enough to address the issue of precedence. That is something very few of us do regularly these days, so the phrase's natural audience is by definition very limited. I would say that "above the salt" is now only really relevant in regal, titled or diplomatic circles, and that in most other cases it belongs to a bygone era.


    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I've never heard the phrase used in the US (nor have I actually heard a BrE speaker use it). I've read of it, in fiction and in poking about websites like the one to which EntangledBank refers in post #2.
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