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French word of the day: Salé

French word of the day: Salé
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
When you go to an expensive restaurant in France, it’s not just the food that can be salty – it’s the bill, too.

Why do I need to know salé?

Because otherwise you’ll be wondering why the French always seem to know what different pieces of paper taste like.

What does it mean?

Salé means “salty” or “salted”, from the verb saler, meaning “to add salt”. This can of course be literal – you might complain that a meal is trop salé – too salty.

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But once the meal is over, and the waiter brings you the bill (check), you have another opportunity to use this term, because salé can also be used to describe a high price. So in this case you’d say l’addition est salée – the bill is expensive.

Or in the context of rising energy prices, you might talk about une facture très salée – a very painful bill.

But what does any of this have to do with le sel (salt)? According to CNEWS, the expression dates back to the 16th century, when a highly unpopular salt tax, called the gabelle, made buying salt very expensive, and meant it could only be bought in Greniers à sel (salt granaries).

The tax existed on and off until 1945 and clearly left a bad (salty) taste in the mouth, because the expression is still used today.

It’s important to note though that a product or service itself cannot be described as salé, but only the price or the bill. You can also use it as a verb – saler ses prix means “to charge high prices”.

Use it like this

On a pris entrée, plat, dessert, l’addition va être salée ! – We had a starter, main course and dessert, the bill is going to sting!

Les consommateurs de gaz peuvent s’attendre à une facture salée cet hiver – Gas consumers can expect a hefty bill this winter

Ce magasin sale bien ses prix – This shop doesn’t hold back on its prices


Member comments

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  1. The same expression is used in UK English. As in “The food was good but the bill was bit salty”

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