rub salt in someone’s wounds: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘rub salt in someone's wounds’ mean?

The idiom "rub salt in someone's wounds" means to deliberately make someone's pain or sadness worse by reminding them of a painful experience or adding insult to injury.

Idiom Explorer


The idiom "rub salt in someone's wounds" is a common phrase in the English language that dates back to the 16th century. It is derived from the act of physically applying salt to a wound, which was considered a cruel and painful practice.

One possible origin of this idiom is believed to come from ancient Roman customs, where prisoners of war or criminals were often punished by having salt rubbed into their wounds. This practice not only caused intense pain but also made the healing process more difficult.

Another theory suggests that the idiom may have originated from the biblical story of Lot's wife in the Book of Genesis. According to the story, Lot's wife disobeyed an angel's warning and looked back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, turning into a pillar of salt.

The phrase "rub salt in someone's wounds" is often used in situations where someone is already experiencing a difficult or distressing time. By bringing up a painful or embarrassing topic, reminding them of their failures, or emphasizing their misfortunes, the speaker further exacerbates their emotional pain.

Your incessant complaints only aggravate the situation.

This idiom can also be used to highlight the insensitivity or cruelty of the person who is causing additional distress. It is like adding insult to injury. When we say "salt in the wound," we mean that the pain or distress is being intensified or worsened.

The idiom "add insult to injury" is closely related to "rub salt in someone's wounds." It refers to the act of further aggravating or worsening someone's situation after they have already experienced harm or misfortune. This can be done through additional hurtful or demeaning words or actions.

Another related idiom is "salt in the wound." This phrase emphasizes the act of adding salt to a wound as a metaphor for intensifying someone's distress or pain. It implies that the person is already hurting, and the addition of salt makes the pain even worse. It is like rubbing salt in an open wound.

The idiom "rub in" is also connected to "rub salt in someone's wounds." It means to emphasize or dwell on something negative, often to make someone feel worse or to ensure they fully understand the consequences of their actions. In the context of this idiom, it refers to the act of repeatedly reminding someone of their misfortune or mistakes.

Despite their negative connotations, these idioms serve as reminders of the power of words to inflict emotional pain and the importance of empathy and sensitivity in our interactions with others.

The idiom "rub salt in someone's wounds" is a vivid expression that conveys the act of intensifying someone's distress or pain by reminding them of their misfortune or mistakes. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Roman customs or biblical stories, both of which highlight the devastating effects of adding salt to wounds.

Example usage

Examples of the idiom "rub salt in someone's wounds" used in a sentence:

1. After losing the game, his teammates mocked his performance, rubbing salt in his wounds.

2. She was already upset about failing the test, but her parents' criticism only rubbed salt in her wounds.

3. The company fired him and then hired his rival, which seemed like rubbing salt in his wounds.

More "Insult" idioms