Money has always been a large part of society, and, because of this, has become a part of our speech. An idiom is a phrase that means something different than it says and is commonly said meaning this. Examples include “tighten your belt” and “pony up”, among others. In this post, I shall write about idioms that relate to numismatics and how they came to be. The two covered will be “worth one’s salt” and “Don’t take a wooden nickel”.
Salt is valuable. Maybe not economically, but it is one of the chemicals that is necessary for human life. Water is another. In the past, salt was worth far more. In ancient civilizations, salt was worth quite a bit, economically. According to phrases.org, the English word salary came from a Roman word called “salarium”. This did not, as its phonetic English equivalent does, mean what one is paid in wages, but was the allotment of money for the purchase of salt. If you were a Roman soldier, you would get a salary, a reimbursement for your services to the army and a salarium for your daily salt. The phrase “worth one’s salt” sprung up around this as sort of an equivalent to “worth one’s weight in gold”. It meant that you were worth your pay.
A wooden nickel is just as it sounds. A nickel made of wood used as a sort of a counterfeit. Or is it more complicated than that? The phrase “Don’t take a wooden nickel” basically means don’t let yourself get cheated out of what is yours. However, this is a case of numismatic confusion. Both counterfeits and wooden nickels existed, but one was not involved with the other. This phrase fell into use in the 19th century and was addressed to country people venturing into the city. People who were seen as unfamiliar to the town were likely to be cheated and swindled, and wooden nickels were used as a blanket term for this. Wooden nickels, however, were not used to swindle, as who would think that wood is metal? It would be pretty hard to pull off. No, these nickels were intended as promotions at a bank or grocery store (Bring in this wooden nickel to Bob’s Grocery and you’ll get a free apple!).
These two phrases speak about how money is very much ingrained into civilization. These idioms offer a unique view into their respective histories and are interesting to learn about. If humanity went extinct, future explorers could probably find out about our culture from our idioms and clichés.
https://www.learn4good.com/languages/evrd_idioms/id-m.php3#penny-wise and pound foolish