“Salt of the earth” is a phrase that refers to either a group or individual that represents the best elements of society. The phrase is best known from the Bible. Matthew 5:13 from the King James Version reads, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
The phrase "salt of the earth" was first published in English in 1386 by Geoffrey Chaucer in his work called “Summoner's Tale.” It is believed that Chaucer took the phrase from the Latin Vulgate, which is a Latin translation of the Bible.
The phrase “salt of the earth” is often misinterpreted. This has to do with the conflict between the phrase and the word “salt.” The phrase refers to people of great worth or people who are reliable in reference to salt and its many uses. Throughout history, however, salt was also used for negative purposes. In the Middle Ages, people poured salt on pieces of land to punish landowners who offended society. The salt poisoned the land, killing any crops or bounty growing on it. This negativity surrounding the word salt often led to the misinterpretation of the phrase.