Monday, September 26, 2011

Take it With a Grain of Salt

I'm awful at keeping schedules.  Ahem:

Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "to take something with a grain of salt."  Perhaps you haven't.  If the latter is the case, then I assure you that it is a fairly common and certainly standard phrase.  It is a staple in phrase books no doubt.

 A grain of salt.  Actual size.

It means, essentially, to view something with skepticism or to not take something too seriously.  For example: "The empiricist took the psychic's prediction with a grain of salt."

The idiom is derived from the Latin phrase, cum grano salis, which you can conveniently substitute for "with a grain of salt" the next time you use the phrase and want to sound like a learned scholar.  So with the previous example: "The empiricist took the psychic's prediction cum grano salis...  B****es."

In modern day Italy, the phrase still exists in the form, "avere sale in zucca," which translates roughly as, "to have salt in your pumpkin."  Here, "pumpkin" is a metonym for "head," and the salt represents wit or intelligence (how fitting!).  Similar phrases also exist in the Dutch (een korreltje zout) and Danish (et gran salt) languages.

The origin of the idiom can be attributed to this fellow,

whom we no doubt all recognize as Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD).  His Naturalis Historia discusses the discovery of an antidote to poison, with one of the ingredients being a grain of salt.  Thus, the poison itself could be taken less seriously.  Alternately, the phrase is attributed to the Roman general Pompey, who, in an effort to build immunities against a variety of poisons, ingested poisons with a grain of salt to make them easier to swallow.

Of course the Latin word salis happens to mean both "salt" and "wit," so maybe there was a mix-up sometime during the last 2,000 years.

The more recent phrase "to take something with a pinch of salt," dates back to F. R. Cowell's Cicero & the Roman Republic (1948):

"A more critical spirit slowly developed, so that Cicero and his friends took more than the proverbial pinch of salt before swallowing everything written by these earlier authors."

While I usually prefer things in their original, unaltered states, I certainly approve of this variation for reasons that you can probably guess (hint: it has to do with how much salt we're dealing with).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reader Challenge!

Busy, busy, busy.  Instead of doing the next chemistry post, I'm going to embrace my laziness and instead do a...


Okay.  It's not that exciting.  It may not even be challenging.  It's certainly not strenuous.  But the point is that it's supposed to distract you, my beloved readers, from my lack of effort today.  Please ignore the previous sentence. 

So here it is, something to flex your brain over: a philosophical feat too lofty for Voltaire, too enigmatic for Descartes, too circular for Socrates.  You could probably encounter it as a warm-up exercise in a creative writing class:

"Describe the flavor of salt."

That's it.  Go.  Assume you're describing salt to someone who's never tasted it before (heathens), so that you can't just say, "It tastes salty" (Mmmm, how succinct)...

Perhaps at some point, if I'm feeling particularly cerebral, I'll revisit the topic from a philosophical perspective.  "What are the consequences of asking such a question?  Do we acknowledge the limitations of language as a communicative form?"  OH, THE SUPERCILIOUSNESS.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Ionic Compounds

Let's take a moment to talk about ionic compounds, as I think this might come in handy for future posts.  I'm admittedly not the best person to talk about chemistry concepts, but I'll do my best not to say something completely untrue.  Here goes:

Ionic compounds are chemical compounds usually consisting of positively charged cations bonded with negatively charged anions or polyatomic ions.  The key here is the ionic bond -- a pretty standard bond to wrap one's head around, since it functions on the attraction of positive charges to negative charges.  Something like magnets, I guess.

(Crap.  Now I need to define cations, anions, and polyatomic ions...)  So they're all ions, if you've noticed, which means they have an unequal balance of protons and electrons, the positive and negative components of atoms, respectively.  Cations are positively charged atoms, anions are negatively charged atoms, and polyatomic ions are molecules (I have to use this term loosely) of an unbalanced charge (very often negative).  Molecules are just groups of atoms, like or unlike, and they are supposed to have a neutral charge.  Polyatomic ions consist of specifically unlike atoms, and of course they're not neutral.

Okay.  The part I really want to get to is the other name that ionic compounds go by...


Sodium chloride is an ionic compound, and apparently it's everybody's favorite, because now all ionic compounds are sporting its name.  It's certainly the most delicious.

Here are some other ionic compounds that we ingest:
  • Sodium Flouride: found in toothpaste (which you shouldn't eat) and tablets to prevent cavities.
  • Ammonium Chloride: used in cough medicine; as a food additive; and in something called "Salty Licorice" (which doesn't contain table salt, but Ammonium Chloride is a salt).
  • Potassium Iodide: used to supplement table salt with iodine, to help prevent iodine deficiency.
  • Calcium Chloride: used as a food additive and firming agent.
I'm sure the list goes on.  That was only four, obviously.


Anyway, this is all supposed to be a briefing for some future subjects I'd like to discuss.  My definitions were all a bit rudimentary, and no doubt muddled (I doodled my way through chem class), so you might consider taking a trip to Wikipedia.  Like this page, for example.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Argentinian Salt Debacle

First off, let me apologize for the terrible delay in my blog posts.  Just last Friday, I was all excited to continue what was supposed to be a consistent Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule, when BAM! No internet.  The router wasn't working for some reason, and it took a while to finally determine that no amount of troubleshooting could fix it.  The thing was shot.  Oh well.

Now, a more dedicated blogger would probably head up to the nearest Starbucks or other such establishment, order a latte with a pinch of salt, and get to work.  But I am a two-post novice.  I wasn't ready for the burden of, well, expectations.  Which brings us here.  A week later, and no activity.

But now it's fixed!  The router, I mean.  Or more accurately, I got a new one.  In all honesty, this happened yesterday, so I might have posted something then, except that A) Thursday is not Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, and frankly, I like order; and B) I was a bit distracted yesterday playing Minecraft (which I was finally able to update to 1.8 (go here, if you've not heard of Minecraft)) and petitioning Notch to add salt blocks.  Yay, Internet.

But salt!  I should say something about salt.  So before I get back to my regular schedule of topics (and I have a long list of things to say about salt), I'd like to briefly discuss an article I came across just today.  The article is a bit outdated (June 11, 2011), but it's still worth noting:


*Gasp!*  Could it be true?  But it is.  It looks like Argentinians aren't complying with the World Health Organization's standards and, on average, are consuming eight more grams of salt than the daily recommended maximum dose (a meager five (that's only about a teaspoon)).  Now I don't know about you, but I eat at least double the amount of salt that the average Argentinian eats, and I'm doing just fine, but the Argentinian government (el gobierno) has deemed it necessary to remove salt shakers from all restaurant tables in the Buenos Aires province as well as to reduce the amount of salt that provincial breadmakers use by at least 40%.

Eff no.

Now, in the policy's defense, patrons can still request salt, "but only after [they] have tasted their food."  If I go to Buenos Aires, I'm bringing my own salt.  I don't want to be babysat when I eat.

I picture myself, bumbling through some Spanish:
"Me gustaría... sal, por favor."
"¿Han probado su comida, señor?" says the waiter.
Silence. "¿Qué?"

Professional egotist, Angelica Slom, has this to say about the policy: "For me, this is perfect.  In reality I would not miss [a salt shaker] if it was not on the table."  It would not surprise me if she was a smoker.


You can read the article here:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

F*** Salt!

Before I get ahead of myself, I might as well explain the title of this blog.  Obviously, I would never myself curse this, the holiest of minerals.  Rather, the phrase, "f*** salt" comes from the uber-popular "Tourettes Guy" series of Internet videos.  How popular is he? Let me put it into perspective: as of now, the first Youtube video returned by a search of "Tourettes Guy" has around as many views as there are grains of salt in ten cups.  (The video can be found here.)

As for the quotation in question, here is a clip showing nothing more than that blasphemous moment (Warning: he says the... F-word!!!):

Why would I choose this phrase as the title of my blog?  Perhaps I was feeling tongue-in-cheek; perhaps I was drawing attention to the adversity faced by salt lovers everywhere; perhaps the potential sexual nature of the phrase fascinated me... (Actually, no.  Not the last one at all.)

However, I cannot help but call to mind a certain someone who did have sexual relations with salt... and this was the result:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Table Salt vs. Sea Salt

Salt is awesome.  It's one of the only things you can dig out of the ground that I happily mix with the food I eat.  And it's delicious.  If I was a miner, I'd totally be mining my own salt in my off-hours.

Obviously, not all salt comes from the ground.  There's sea salt, for one.  That's from the ocean.  I find it especially satisfying to sprinkle sea salt over seafood.  I feel incredibly efficient.  Which brings us to a pretty standard topic: sea salt vs. table salt.

I use the name "table salt" to denote salt of a more terrestrial nature.  Table salt is around 99.9% sodium chloride (NaCl), while sea salt contains 98% NaCl.  Table salt is typically processed and contains added iodine (supposedly deficient in many diets), as well as some other stuff to prevent clumping, while sea salt contains various minerals -- like iron, sulfur, and magnesium -- left behind by the evaporated sea water.  Sea salt is more coarse, of course, and compliments any course.

The lack of extra minerals in table salt is its major drawback (except for the iodine), and in its processed state table salt [allegedly] contributes to high blood pressure.  Sea salt, on the other hand, may promote increased kidney and liver function and a healthier immune system.  But be warned: in order to preserve the nutritive properties of sea salt, little is done to temper the impurities found in the seawater.  While sea salt is generally more flavorful than table salt (due to the extra minerals), table salt is saltier (boasting a higher NaCl content).

If you asked me to choose between table salt and sea salt in general, it would be like asking me to choose between my children (I have none, but you get my meaning). 

I read this little bit of advice on "[L]imit total sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day — or 1,500 milligrams if you're age 51 or older, or if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease."  Not only is this horrible advice (limiting salt intake?!), but it strikes me as somewhat racist.  As if black people weren't limited enough.  I suppose pepper is a more appropriate spice?  Phooey!

(By the way, a place called Mayo Clinic seems to me the last place you'd go for health advice.  Last time I checked, mayonnaise is bad for you.)