Where Did the Phrase “Take It With a Grain of Salt” Come From?

When the authenticity of information is questionable, we tell others to take it with a grain of salt. But why salt, and only one grain?

If you’ve told a story or shared information you weren’t completely sure was true, you’ve likely told someone to “take it with a grain of salt.” Seems like a small task, but taking something with a grain of salt actually has a larger meaning. Why exactly do we use this phrase when sharing information, and where did it come from? Similar to “break a leg,” “dime a dozen,” and “let the cat out of the bag,” “take it with a grain of salt” has a very specific meaning and should be used accordingly (no actual salt needed, though).

“Take it with a grain of salt” meaning

Merriam-Webster defines “take it with a grain of salt” as a skeptical attitude. It’s used to encourage people to look at something with some reservation as there’s a chance it could be untrue or misleading.

Here are some examples of how to use it in a sentence:

  • “Take his advice with a grain of salt, as he’s never been in this situation before.”
  • “This story sounds incredible, but I’d take it with a grain of salt until you get more details.”
  • “You’ll never guess what I just heard while I was in town—take it with a grain of salt, though.”

“Take it with a grain of salt” origin

The origins of this phrase aren’t one hundred percent clear. Some believe that it originated in ancient times—specifically, in 77 A.D. from Pliny the Elder. It’s believed he used the phrase when translating an antidote for poison, saying to take it with a grain of salt. Others believe the phrase made its way into the mainstream in the 20th century. Some countries actually say to take something with a pinch of salt as opposed to a grain, but it means the same thing (like when people say “no worries” and “no problem.”)

Synonyms for “take it with a grain of salt”

If you’re looking for singular words synonymous with this phrase, consider using one of these:

  • Doubtful
  • Tentative
  • Reserved
  • Skeptical
  • Warily

Next time you want to express that something should be looked at with more context, use the phrase “take it with a grain of salt” or its synonyms to emphasize your point. Now, read on to learn what the phrase “spill the beans” means and where it comes from.

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Kelly Kuehn
Kelly Kuehn is an assistant editor for Reader’s Digest covering entertainment, trivia, and history. When she’s not writing you can find her watching the latest and greatest movies, listening to a true crime podcast (or two), blasting ‘90s music, and hiking with her dog, Ryker, throughout New England.