Mettre son grain de sel

Sel

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to the culinary world. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Mettre son grain de sel.”

Literally translated as, “putting in one’s grain of salt,” it means interfering with a conversation or situation with an unsollicited comment or opinion. It is a colloquial expression that is somewhat similar to the American English idiom, “adding one’s two cents.” Depending on the context, a person’s urge to slip in his grain of salt can be seen in a positive light (outspoken/endearing) or a negative one (meddlesome/annoying*).

Example: “Ils avaient choisi le menu, mais le père de la mariée a mis son grain de sel, et il a fallu tout changer.” “They had chosen the menu, but the bride’s father put in his grain of salt, and the whole thing had to be changed.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:


(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

Originally, the grain of salt in question symbolized a witticism, a bon mot thrown into a conversation to liven it up, as salt does a dish, but in this expression it evolved to mean any remark or involvement that seems more necessary to the person who offers it than to its recipient.

Personally, I always imagine someone standing next to a cook and extending his arm, unprompted, to add a bit of salt to the dish being prepared. (Maddening, I know.)

This expression entered French dictionaries fairly recently, in the first half of the twentieth century, but I found a reference to it in Laurent Joseph Remacle’s Walloon-to-French dictionary, first published in 1823, under the entry mett si grain d’sé, which would indicate that it started as a regional expression, and was later adopted more broadly.

* If you do find it annoying, this other idiom may come in handy: S’occuper de ses oignons, minding one’s own business.

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  • Tamsin

    Thank you Clotilde, your edible idioms series is fascinating. Just an aside – ‘putting in one’s two cents’ is the American version, in the UK we say ‘putting in one’s two pence (or tuppence) worth’. To my mind the salt metaphor is much more elegant; you can imagine that too many people ‘adding a grain of salt’ would spoil a dish in the same way that too many people weighing in on a conversation would result in a big old argument!

  • The American idiom might be two cents, the English version would be either, ‘sticking his/her oar in’ or ‘he had to give his tuppeny-hapenny worth.’ tho’ as the halfpenny is no longer in use that’s an older idiom.

    But then, that’s just my tuppeny-hapenny worth!

  • Hello,

    I love reading these posts and I’m always amazed at the similarities I find: In Germany one isn’t putting in salt but mustard when interfering with an ongoing conversation!

  • Marcel

    It reminds me of taking something “with a grain of salt”– meaning to view something skeptically.

  • I really enjoy these idioms … especially this one!

  • i love this series – learning french has been a goal of mine for years and cooking has been a goal of mine for years – so you have provided a perfect means for me to do both at once! :)

  • Joan

    This is so similar to the American English idiom that I find it easy. I am going to Paris with two grand daughters in a week or so and have directed them to your idioms, but find that my many years ago college French works in reading and writing, but not speaking or listening. I have both of your books and look forward to using them in our apartment and choosing restaurants. Wish me luck.

  • what a great way for me to learn French!!

  • DanDx

    When someone gets into the unwelcome habit to “mettre son grain de sel”, you are allowed to “mettre les pieds dans le plat”.
    Oops! :)

  • Hi Clotilde,

    A while ago you have been nominated to Inspiring Food Photography poll and I would want also to give you Beautiful Blog award (replacement for IFP event):

    If you agree place link or badge linking to the B B List somewhere on your site or mention it in the post and I will place your link on the list.

    Margot

  • Dylan

    Ha! Interestingly enough, Roman soldiers used to be paid their “Salary”, being wages, in the form of… salt.

    So perhaps this is an older expression then realized, and that’s why the French put in their salt, and the Americans put in their salary…

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