Let’s talk about sauce

Sauce comes from the Latin salsa, which means salted food, deriving ultimately from the root sal, for salt.

The Spanish word salsa, nabbed directly from the Latin, simply means sauce in a generic way. But the Spanish salsa has entered English as a word separate from sauce, referring to the chunky condiment we dip nachos in.

Salsa as a style of dance apparently picked up its name in the 1970s. The connection seems to be that it’s a mix of many pieces of different styles, and/or that it’s spicy and hot — either way, it derives from the earlier, food-related meaning.

You don’t often hear people described as saucy anymore — at least, not in American English — but you see it in older books sometimes. Someone who’s saucy is impudent, bold, irreverent. The person, like a sauce, has a strong and striking “flavor.” This branch off the sauce tree emerged around 1520; before that, saucy just meant, well, related to sauce.

Saucy sounds a lot like sassy, and sassy means … let’s see … impudent, bold, irreverent. About the same meaning, about the same sound. Could it be … ? Yep. Sure enough, sassy is nothing more than an American variant of saucy, formed sometime around the 1830s.

So whether you’re dancing the salsa, or giving somebody sass, it’s really all about the sauce.

After all, sauce is also internet slang for source. Appropriate, no?


Most of this information comes from the always helpful and endlessly fascinating Etymonline.com.

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4 responses to “Let’s talk about sauce

  1. First of all is it “is it nabbed from THE latin”
    or “nabbed from latin” just askin’ don’t know ’bout it.
    And i’ll give you one more english word which is taken from hindi(which is one o’ da’ national languages of INDIA)which is SHAMPOO
    Taken from “Champu” meaning to cleanse/rinse.
    Jus’ a bit o’ trivia fo’ you
    There are many otha’ words taken from our language like JUNGLE,AVATAR which again was a huge hit film,and JUGGERNAUT used in da’ worldwide hit “when i grow up” by shirley manson of garbage,you might remember da’ line “cut my tongue out,i’ve been caught out like a giant juggernaut”.And da’ ubiquitious CHUTNEY which even you might have tasted,justa’ name a few.
    Bye fo’ now.
    Rgds/-
    Ravikiran Shekhar.

    • Hi Ravikiran,

      “Nabbed from Latin” would mean it’s just taken from that language, in general. I’m using “nabbed from the Latin” as a sort of shortening of “nabbed from the Latin word salsa.” At least, I think I am. I typed the words without thinking about them too much. 🙂

      I didn’t know about the shampoo etymology, that’s cool! The Spanish word is even closer to the Hindi word — it’s simply champu. And juggernaut is an especially cool etymology since, as you probably already know, it came to English through a mistaken belief that a certain kind of giant wagon in India was crushing people to death. So much of language is based on mistakes …

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Reminds me of “saucier” (a sauce chef) and “saucisse” (which means sausage), both of which I learned from “Too Many Cooks,” a Nero Wolfe novel about murder at a gathering of top chefs.

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