In a comment about salient, Wanda Hill wrote that it’s “interesting to see that salient doesn’t have anything to do with saline, salinity, or salary. Note that they all start out with the same syllable sal. The last three words are rooted in salt.”
Along those lines, I once made a false assumption about salacious, which the 1913 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defined as ‘Having a propensity to venery; lustful; lecherous.’ A century later, the Collins English Dictionary gives: ‘(of books, magazines, etc.) erotic, bawdy, or lewd.’ I knew the word’s meaning but thought it was related to salty in its sense, as given in Wordsmyth, of ‘sharp, witty, or sexually suggestive, as a joke or story.’ (I’ll add that sexually-related sense of salty may be losing its salt, with some current dictionaries no longer including it.)
The truth is that salacious is one more word that came from the same source as salient and resilient, namely the Latin verb salire ‘to jump, bound, leap.’ The root of that verb gave rise to the Latin adjective salax, with stem salac-, which meant literally ‘fond of leaping.’ Based on observations of the way various male animals leapt about when mating, the Romans gave salax the secondary senses ‘ lustful, lecherous’ and ‘provoking lust.’
Spanish has carried the Latin adjective over as salaz, which the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española defines as ‘Muy inclinado a la lujuria.’ The corresponding noun is salacidad, defined in the DRAE as ‘Inclinación vehemente a la lascivia.’ While salacity exists in English, salaciousness is the more common form.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman