What Does Salty Mean? Origins, Definitions & How To Use The Slang Term Properly

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While there are thousands of slang terms circling around the internet and social media, not every term perfectly describes certain feelings that pass through your mind.

When it's a particularly tense situation, only one word encapsulates the mix of anger, resentment and irritation: salty.

If you’ve been around for awhile, you’ve probably heard the term salty, and you've ventured onto social media at all, you've without a doubt seen some pretty funny salty memes.

Of course, you may have assumed it was in relation to food — i.e., “man, these chips are salty,” or, “wow, you over-salted this chicken.” But in slang terms, salty means something completely different — and definitely not as literal.

What does salty mean?

In casual conversation, salty is used to describe contention, bitterness, anger, or an otherwise-foul attitude, and may at least in part derive from the concept of someone crying "salty" tears.

According to Urban Dictionary, salty is “the act of being upset, angry, or bitter as result of being made fun of or embarrassed. Also a characteristic of a person who feels out of place or is feeling attacked.”

And according to the more formal Dictionary, salty means "angry, upset, or hostile, especially due to embarrassment or failure" — or "toughened by experience" as a sailor would be.

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Of course, the former definition is used more frequently, as sailors make up a relatively small portion of the general population, especially when it comes to the generation most likely to use salty in their every day speech.

In short, someone who is salty is “mad, angry, agitated, and upset,” or, more likely, bitter about something.

Where did the term salty come from?

Contrary to popular belief, salty isn’t a new term. Not at all. In fact, the Online Etymology Dictionary says that the “slang” version of salty was first used in 1938 — at which time it meant “angry [and] irritated,” much like today.

Why it was used in this way remains a mystery, although it probably found its origins “with regard to sailors." As mentioned above, the term was used to describe men who were “tough [and] aggressive" back in the 1920s.

And as for its modern-day prevalence online, the slang term didn't become relevant until around 2002, when a user uploaded their own definition of "salty" to Urban Dictionary.

Over 10 years later, in February of 2014, an Imgur user uploaded a meme featuring a photo of a restaurant with a board out front that said, "Soup of the Day: American Tears (Go Canada)," and captioned, "It's a little salty, but it'll do."

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Soon after, YouTubers began using the term in the titles of their uploads. Videos such as "Salty Moments In Smash - Episode 1 Super Smash Brothers" and "COD Ghosts: Hosts Salty Girl Gamer Hates Knifers!" soon went viral, amassing nearly 1.6 and 2.4 million views respectively.

Then in 2015, after a user on Reddit asked a question about the term itself, the hashtag #salty began trending on multiple platforms, including Twitter and Tumblr, officially sealing it in the worldwide slang lexicon.

Yes, you can use the term salty online or on social media platforms, but part of the fun is incorporating the phrase in your own life. And it couldn't be easier.

Just check out these examples of how to use salty.

How to Use 'Salty' In Everyday Situations

1. To call someone out for being a sore loser.

Example: "Trisha lost the game and now she is mad salty."

Let’s be real, though: losing is upsetting. Sometimes getting salty is perfectly understandable.

2. To express anger over a certain predicament.

Example: "When Lauren learned John had cheated on her, she got seriously salty with him."

Salty may be an understatement here, but there’s no doubt that Lauren was “mad, angry, and agitated.”

3. To describe your (highly justified) attitude.

Example: "Yes, I'm a salty b-tch — and proud of it."

Five words: stay out of my way.

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4. In response to rejection.

Example: “Man, I can’t believe Jess rejected you. Are you sad or just salty?”

Dating is bad enough, but rejection? It's just brutal.

5. When asking someone why they have such an (highly unjustified) attitude.

Example: “Why are you so salty today? Is something wrong?"

Hey, sometimes it's for no reason at all.

6. Describing someone's reaction to something you did wrong.

Example: “I completely forgot about our date and left my girlfriend waiting at the restaurant for over an hour. Now she's all salty!”

Anyone would be salty about this.

7. When someone doesn't like one of your jokes.

Example: “I was just teasing you. You don’t have to be so salty about it.”

No, they don't have to be all salty about it, but also, maybe you shouldn't have acted like such a jerk in the first place.

Now who's salty? Hmm?

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Nicole Lane is a wife, mother, writer, and regular contributor for YourTango. She is a staunch defender of women's rights, believes firmly in equality and parity, and is an advocate for women's health.