AE 260 – Expression: To Take Something With A Grain/Pinch Of Salt

Learn Australian English in this episode of Aussie English where I teach you how to use the expression TO TAKE SOMETHING WITH A GRAIN/PINCH OF SALT.

AE 260 – Expression: To take something with a grain/pinch of salt

G’day guys how’s it going?

Welcome to this episode of Aussie English.

How has your week been?

I hope you guys have been up to quite a lot of English practice and just enjoying yourselves in general.

It is Friday morning here at the moment in Australia and we have just finished our heat wave.

So summer has been pretty interesting.

It’s been overall I think the hottest summer on record for Australia, but interestingly it has been I think the first summer at least in Melbourne where we didn’t have a day above 40 degrees Celsius.

So that’s pretty bizarre because most summers that we have we tend to have at least a handful of days, you know, several days, a couple of days in summer where we have the temperature get above 40 degrees Celsius.

I mean I remember one summer where we had eight days in a row we had a heat wave of all days above 40 degrees Celsius.

And I remember one of those days I was in the car and the car said it was 51 degrees outside.

I couldn’t believe it.

I couldn’t believe… It was horrible.

It was absolutely, absolutely horrible anyway.

This summer we haven’t had a day above 40 degrees.

It’s been insane.

And yet, and yet, on average the days have been still very hot and obviously enough of them to give us the hottest year on average on record.

So very interesting stuff.

And, more recently, we had a heat wave where we’re in autumn now, so autumn or fall, if you’re wanting to learn American English is the season after summer, obviously, when the leaves fall off the trees in America, but they don’t typically do that here in Australia unless you’re talking about American trees that are here or European trees that are here.

But we’ve had like 10 days of high temperatures in autumn.

It’s been very peculiar, and only now, only more recently has it finally started to rain after a cyclone hit Queensland and brought a lot more rain and colder weather.

So, finally, we’re getting past the heat and into some colder weather down here in Melbourne.

So, anyway, let’s get into the crux of this episode guys.

Today the expression that we are working on comes from Juliana from the Aussie English Virtual Classroom.

She suggested this expression “To take something with a grain of salt” or “To take something with a pinch of salt”.

So thank you Juliana for this expression.

This one’s a good one guys and you’re going to hear this all the time across all different dialects of English.

They will use this expression.

So let’s go through and define the words in the expression.

To take something with a pinch of salt or to take something with a grain of salt.

So the first one there, the first verb or the first word is obviously “To take”, “To take something”.

This is a difficult one.

This has probably 20 odd different uses in English.

It’s a very very common verb.

It’s probably one of the first verbs that you’re going to learn.

I’m sure a lot of you know how to use “To take”.

But let’s go through some of the different ways and I’ll give you a few example sentences.

So 1. “To take”, to get hold of something with your hands.

So to reach for something and hold something.

So you could say, “He leaned forward and took her hand. He held her hand”.

2. To remove someone or something from a particular place.

So, “I took my friend outside”.

3. To carry or bring with someone so to convey something.

“He took his books to school with him. He took his books to school with him”.

4. To accept or receive someone or something.

And that’s what it means in this example.

So ,for example, “She was advised to take the job offer”.

So, to accept it, to receive it, to take it.

5. To consume some food, drink, medicine or drugs.

“It could be time to take your medicine”.

6. To make undertake or perform an action or task.

So, “I took a deep breath”.

7. To require or use up a specific amount of time.

So, “It takes an hour to drive from here to Geelong”.

“It takes an hour to drive there”.

So those are all these different ways of using the verb ”To take”.

It’s a pretty versatile verb in English but in this instance if you take something with a pinch of salt or you take something with a grain of salt it means to accept or receive that thing like taking the job off.

You’re effectively taking what someone says or taking it as accepting it or receiving it, interpreting it personally.

So hopefully you get what “Take” is, “To take”.

“A pinch”.

“A pinch“ is a… It can be a verb “To pinch someone”, which means typically to grip someone with your thumb and finger.

So usually, you know, you grab their flesh, their skin and give them a pinch.

You… Well that’s the noun.

But you pinch them.

You use it as a verb, “To pinch them”.

So you grip it tightly with your fingers and press.

That’s “To pinch”.

But we’re using it as a noun here.

So “A pinch” can be the act of pinching someone.

So someone could give you a pinch by pinching you.

So you can use it as a noun or a verb.

But here it’s a measurement of an ingredient.

So, salt.

So, often you’ll have recipes in English where, you know, you’ll have a cup of sugar, two cups of flour, two eggs, some milk, you know, if you’re making pancakes or something.

And then at the bottom it’ll say “and a pinch of salt”.

So effectively a very very small amount of salt that you can pick up by just literally putting your finger, your thumb into the salt and pinching and then adding that to the recipe.

So it’s not really a very well-defined amount aside from the fact that it’s just a pinch, you know.

It could vary depending on the size of your hands.

But, “A pinch” is a very small amount of something in this case salt.

“A grain” is even more a smaller amount of that thing.

So it’s a single particle.

A small hard single particle of a substance.

So you could have a grain of salt or literally one piece of salt, one small particle of salt.

You can have other things like a grain of sand.

So if you went to the beach and you pick up a handful of sand that handful of sand is made up of probably thousands if not millions of grains of sand.

So single particles of sand.

And I guess to end obviously we need to go over what “Salt” is.

And I guess the definition of this is that it’s a white crystalline substance that gives seawater its characteristic taste and is used for seasoning or preserving food.

So, everyone knows what “Salt” is.

It’s that you’ve got salt and pepper on the table.

If you want to make something sweet you don’t add salt to it you’ll add sugar to it.

If you want to make something salty, obviously you don’t add sugar but you add salt to it.

So let’s define the phrase.

To take something with a pinch of salt, to take something with a grain of salt, it means to take something, to accept something, to receive something, but to maintain a degree of skepticism about whether or not it’s true.

So you could still doubt whether this thing is true although you accept it, or you may have doubts about its accuracy, about what’s being said or promised by someone.

So you’re remaining skeptical.

You’re taking something, you’re accepting it, but you’re still sort of like, “Yeah… I don’t know if it’s true. So I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I’ll believe you. But I’m going to remain skeptical until, you know, I see whether or not it ends up being true. I’m going to take what someone says with a grain of salt. I’m going to believe that, but I’m going to take it with a pinch of salt. So I’m going to accept it. But I’m going to remain skeptical. I don’t know if it’s true or not. So we’ll see.”

I looked up the origin of this phrase too.

I was interested in seeing where this came from and this one is probably one of the more ancient ones that I have actually looked up.

So the idea comes from food being more easier to swallow if you take the food, if you eat the food, if you ingest the food, with a small amount of salt.

And this is obviously why we add salt to food because it tastes better and it’s easier to eat.

So apparently this originates from Pliny the Elder, which I think is an ancient Greek philosopher who wrote Naturalis Historia in 77 A.D..

So, you know, almost 2000 years ago.

But he wrote down or translated an ancient antidote for poison saying that it should “be taken fasting plus a grain of salt”.

So the antidote should be taken while fasting as well as with a grain of salt.

So in Pliny’s Naturalis Historia that was written or translated in 77 A.D. it reads as the following:

“After the defeat of that mighty monarch Mithridates, Gnaeus Pompeius found in his private cabinet a recipe for an antidote in his own handwriting. It was to the following effect: Take two dried walnuts, two figs and twenty leaves of rue. Pound them all together with the addition of a grain of salt. If a person takes this mixture fasting he will be proof against all poisons for that day.”

So there’s a few words in there that even I’m not sure of.

I don’t know what “rue” is.

I assume it’s some kind of plant.

But effectively what he’s saying is that if this person mixes these things together as an antidote and then adds a grain of salt to it to make them easier to eat the person will be defended against poisons for a day.

So it’s an antidote against poisons and the antidote is easier to consume if you add salt to it.

So the basic idea then figuratively from this is that injurious effects, so being injured, can be moderated, so can be avoided or it can be controlled by taking a grain of salt.

So that’s the literal meaning sorry.

And the figurative meaning is that truth might need moderation with the application of a grain of salt.

And it didn’t enter common language until a lot more recently.

So it was likely influenced by classical scholars who studied ancient Greek and the texts of people like Pliny.

And the phrase first appeared in its figurative form in the 1600s, but only as “A grain of salt”.

And then the “Pinch of salt” variant appeared in the 1940s.

So that was a lot more recently.

Anyway three examples of how you could use the phrase “To take something with a grain of salt” or “To take something with a pinch of salt”.


So example number 1.

You are going to have a party and you invite all of your friends including your mate, Bill.

And Bill always seems to have an excuse as to why he can’t come to social events with friends.

You know, he’s busy with work, he’s busy with his family.

Maybe he’s just tired or he’s just busy in general or he forgot.

You know, he always has an excuse as to why he didn’t make it, why he didn’t come, why he couldn’t make it.

When you tell your friends that you called Bill up, he said that he’s definitely going to come to the party.

He can’t wait to see all your friends.

Your friends might say, “Well based on what he’s done in the past I would probably take that with a grain of salt.

So if I were you I would remain skeptical about what he says that he’s going to do”.

It may not be that he is lying.

It may be that he wants to come but based on what he’s done in the past it’s unlikely that that will actually happen.

So you should definitely take that with a pinch of salt.

You should take that with a grain of salt.

Bill always says he’s going to come but then ends up not coming.

So whatever he says should be taken with a grain of salt.

So remain skeptical.

Take it with a pinch of salt.


Example number 2.

This is a good one.

Imagine politicians or a political party.

In Australia especially, politicians always seem to make massive promises before an election.

So when we have an election where we’re going to vote in a certain political party or a certain political leader they always seem to make these crazy promises about things they’re going to do.

You know, they’re going to make the poor rich.

So they promise to do all of these things.

And a good example in Australia at least was that when the Liberal Party was about to be elected a few years ago they said that they weren’t going to cut the funding to the ABC.

And the ABC in Australia is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

So it’s a national public broadcaster that’s owned and funded by the government.

So this gives us our news and a lot of TV shows, and it’s all free, no ads.

So they said they weren’t going to make any cuts.

They weren’t going to cut the funding.

So reduce the amount of money that the ABC would receive from the government before they were elected.

But then as soon as they got elected and they won.

Sure enough once they were elected the cuts came through.

So they stopped the funding or at least reduced the funding to the ABC.

Thus, when a politician or a political party makes certain promises about things they’re going to do you should take those promises with a grain of salt.

You should take those promises with a pinch of salt.

You should always remain skeptical.

Don’t just believe everything that they say, because they obviously have a motivation for saying it.

They have an agenda.

So make sure you take it with a pinch of salt or with a grain of salt, whatever they’re promising that is.


Example number 3. could be a car salesman.

Car salesmen, wherever you are in the world tend to be untrustworthy and dodgy guys in general.

And so “Dodgy” is kind of, yeah, that idea of not trustworthy, very shady.

You should always remain skeptical as to what they’re doing, what they’re saying, what they’re thinking.

That’s just ,yeah, very very very untrustworthy, very dodgy.

And that’s a slang term that’s very Australian and probably only used in Australia.

So imagine that you need a buy second hand car, and a lot of you guys who come to Australia are probably going to be in this position.

If you go to a car salesman who has, like, a lot where there are a lot of second hand cars and he sells them there.

That’s his business.

He’s selling preowned cars that were bought second hand.

So someone bought them new, drove them, and then sold them second hand to the car salesman or he bought them.

And then he’s selling them second hand, as opposed to first hand.

So you go to a car salesman’s lot and you find a car that you like, and you turn around and the car salesman is coming up with a massive grin on his face.

You know, he’s overweight, he’s fat, he’s sweating profusely, he’s incredibly excited and he’s wearing a very cheap suit.

So, you know, the stereotype of a car salesman.

And he says, you know, he walks up and you say, “What’s the price for the car? Is it in good condition? What should I expect?”, and he’s all, “It’s in perfect condition mate. It’s as good as new. It’s never had any problems. And it was only driven on weekends by a little old lady who only took it to church and she only took it to the shops to get milk and food. So it’s in great nick. It’s in great condition.”

And that’s one of those stories that we have where car salesmen will always say, “Oh yeah, it was owned by a little old lady who only drove it on Sundays to church”.

That’s a very stereotypical kind of saying where he’s effectively saying that it is not used a lot.

It’s in great condition because old ladies are not renowned for thrashing cars for being hoons and, you know, damaging the car.

So the car salesman’s reputation is obviously that he is very dodgy.

He’s money hungry.

He just wants to make a sale.

He’s untrustworthy.

And so you should take what he says with a grain of salt, because it is very unlikely that what he is saying is true.

So he’s undoubtedly trying to make a sale.

He’s undoubtedly trying to take you for a ride, which means, you know, sort of trick you.

And so you should definitely take whatever he’s saying with a grain of salt.

You should be skeptical.

You shouldn’t believe everything this dodgy dude is telling you about this car.

It’s unlikely that it’s all true.

Maybe none of it is true.

You should take it with a pinch of salt.

You should take it with a grain of salt.

So that’s the lesson for today guys.

You should definitely not take this lesson with a pinch of salt because it is true.

That is what the expression means.

But I hope you get what it means by now and that you can go on and use “To take something with a pinch of salt” or “a grain of salt”.

Remember, it just means that something that is being said is unlikely to be true, but you’re accepting it.

So your staying skeptical, you’re going to say, “OK, I’m going to accept this for now, but I’m going to I remain skeptical until I see otherwise”.

So as usual guys let’s go through a little listen and repeat exercise here and work on our pronunciation.

Listen and repeat after me, and copy me exactly if you’re trying to copy an Australian accent.

Otherwise, just say these words and these phrases using whatever accent it is that you are practicing whether it’s the British one, the American one, whatever it is.

Let’s go.

Listen and Repeat:

A grain of salt.
A grain of salt.
A grain of salt.
A grain of salt.

A pinch of salt.
A pinch of salt.
A pinch of salt.
A pinch of salt.

To take something with a grain of salt.
To take something with a grain of salt.

To take something with a pinch of salt.
To take something with a pinch of salt.

Now, that is me saying it at a more slow speed where I am enunciating all of these phrases incredibly well.

But I’m going to go through each one of these just quickly now showing you how I changed the pronunciation of the word “of” two just “ah”.

So, again, like we’ve gone over in previous episodes this is connected speech and it’s kind of how native speakers of English everywhere are going to contract this down to speak more quickly and more naturally.

So, “of” becomes an “ah” sound.

Listen and repeat after me.

Listen and repeat:

A grain_ah salt.
A grain_ah salt.

A pinch_ah salt.
A pinch_ah salt.

A grain_ah salt.

A pinch_ah salt.

To take something with a grain_ah salt.
To take something with a grain_ah salt.

To take something with a pinch_ah salt.
To take something with a pinch_ah salt.
To take something with a pinch_ah salt.

So there you are guys.

That’s the episode for today.

Just a cheeky reminder that if you guys are interested in trying the Aussie English Supporter Pack remember it’s just a dollar to try it for 30 days.

I know you guys are going to love it.

So definitely jump in and give it a go.

Today we’re going to have all this bonus content for this episode where I’m going to have a vocab glossary going over all the difficult terms in this episode, a vocab table for you to fill out and practice all of the vocab in this lesson, listening comprehension exercises, phrasal verb substitution exercises.

We’re going to go over the slang terms that are used, and we’re also going to go more in depth with pronunciation and connected speech as well as have a grammar exercise.

So it’s the kind of thing where you can go through and do all these exercises if you really want to work on all aspects of English or if you have specific areas that you’re trying to improve, that you’re trying to nail, like phrasal verbs or pronunciation, you can just pick these exercises out once you’ve signed up to the Aussie English Supporter Pack and do them each week based on what it is that you’re interested in.

Anyway, that’s enough for today guys.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode.

Remember don’t take it with a pinch of salt.

You don’t have to be skeptical.

That’s what this phrase means.

And I’ll see you next time.

All the best guys.

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