The Wax Conspiracy

Chewing the sounds of rubbing salt into injury

Thuddering about behind the counter, as you look to rub salt along the chipped lip of a martini glass, it's obvious then that handing this over to your friend, now sober, now drunk again, is classically what linguists had in mind when thinking about adding insult to injury.

"rubbing salt into the wound" and "adding insult to injury" are naturally the kind of wordfellows to grip each other tightly in the night, spooning one another as the storm passes over. Lightning crashes and the soft supple feel of being so close shows how intimate these synonym phrases are.

"insult to injury" first appears in written works sometime around 1770. Blipping a few hundreds prior to itself, "salt into the wound" would not really start picking up the shaker until the briny turn of 1900.

Ngram showing incidence start of 'insult to injury' and 'salt into the wound'
"insult to injury" vs "salt into the wound"

After downing a deep-fried burger dipped in chocolate sauce made from a bowl of M&Ms, Mars Bars and Kit Kats left in the sun, we can see the slurring of speech bloodshot as "insult" moves toward "add salt". Following its murky path it's not hard to find the trail and transition into such a cozy phrase sibling.

Sult, as read by the label as you stand there in line at the deli sopping in butcher paper and sausage link door curtains, is head cheese of European origins. It's a meat jelly, a terrine, and a smashing together of all the fleshy bits of a pig or baby cow. Little doubt then that insult affects muchly on the ego, the colloquial name for head cheese (when it doesn't also mean Swissed earwax). Into the ego, into the flesh.

Gunpowder, nature's own pepper shaker, is used frequently in Cambodian extraction movies led by lone muscle-bound saviours and backyard battlefield re-enactments to blow away all the juicy drippings of blood and cauterise the wound. Healing it in a fashion, closing up the bloody gash in a fit of tinnitus.

Salt then, pepper's condimental opposite in spirit, would just as unnaturally tear it apart. Rendering the scored flesh from calm and searing the rib-eye a little. Not with the brown of horrors, but the brown of a faecal exodus hit against the wall of the seat of the pants. Sodium chloride wraps its fingers around the notches by the menuki and brings down with it a taste of hurt, now physical.

It took two hundred years for a phrase concerning someone's attacked standing to birth a limp conjoined twin that would focus more on the physical comedy, but it got there all the same. Society is an ordure, efforts of its hoi polloi speaking, talking, jabbering on incessantly with a turn of phrase moves many things from the ivory towers into the gutter of slapstick.

Ethan Switch

Written on Wednesday, 6 November 2013

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