May 26, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric - ATTIC SALT

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

Attic salt (AH-tick sawlt) n. a pointed and graceful wit.

I came across the phrase "Attic salt" this morning while reading Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina:
Koznyshev, who knew better than anyone how at the end of a most abstract and serious dispute unexpectedly to administer a grain of Attic salt and thereby to change his interlocutor's frame of mind, did so now.

The phrase has its origins in the Greek region of Attica, which includes the traditional Greek capital city of Athens. Thus an Attic salt (sometimes expressed as an "Attic wit") conveys a sense of refinement associated with high society. Tolstoy used the phrase to describe the conversation occurring at a formal dinner party at the home of Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky, and I suspect that the topics of conversation likely included nineteenth century equivalents to products similar to those found on

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