We should believe his story with no less of a grain of salt than may consist with his reputation as a fibber. Grammar Reference

Does this mean, "since he is infamous as a fibber, we should never let our guard down when we hear his story."?

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    -1. "Grammar Reference" is not a source. Please provide your source, if one exists. (It's hard to imagine any actual grammar reference containing this sentence.)
    – user230
    Oct 20, 2014 at 18:31
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    The big problem I see here is "may consist with". It would be much more idiomatic if it was "is consistent with". Oxford Dictionaries Online classifies this meaning as archaic, although Google search finds a small amount of current usage. Oct 20, 2014 at 20:28

3 Answers 3


The author of the sentence does not want to slander the other person by saying "He is a liar." Rather, the author intends for the reader to use the readers own familiarity with the person's reputation of past fibbing as to how much belief or trust to put into the persons stories. Thus, no slander has occurred.


Yes. It is a poorly written sentence, but I believe you have understood the meaning correctly.

ETA: I see two issues with the sentence. First is the use of "less" with the countable noun phrase "grain of salt". Less is not to be used with count nouns. Instead, the writer should have used the word "fewer". That said, you can't use either with a singular noun like "grain". It ought to have been "fewer grains of salt". (I will say, though, that native speakers often use "less" to mean "fewer", and probably wouldn't be bothered by "less grains of salt" at all. It really is the use of less/fewer with a singular count noun that caught my ear.)

Beyond that error, the construction of the sentence is a bit odd. While "consist with" can be used in the way it is in this sentence, it is a very uncommon usage. There are a lot of options one could use in place of "consist with" but one might be:

We should believe his story with no fewer grains of salt than warranted by his reputation as a fibber.

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    This answer seems to hold that "a grain of salt" is a specific, well-defined amount that is intended to be counted, when in fact "a grain" is simply "an indeterminate small amount" (much like a pinch or a dash), and thus you can have a 'relatively large small amount' or a 'very tiny small amount' without creating a problem. "No less of a grain" thus means "no smaller of an amount"; there is no countability/uncountability error involved in the quote.
    – Hellion
    Oct 20, 2014 at 15:01
  • Yes. It is a convoluted approach, to be sure, but it is grammatically correct. I think @Wichita Steve's answer really has the sense of it better (use your knowledge of the speaker to determine whether or not to believe the story).
    – Hellion
    Oct 20, 2014 at 15:05
  • I understand the figurative nature of the term "grain of salt", but do not understand the logic for why the word 'less' would be grammatically appropriate here. Do you have other examples where the countability of the noun becomes irrelevant due to the meaning? I do agree that Wichita Steve gets at the meaning better!
    – michelle
    Oct 20, 2014 at 17:08
  • @hellion While "grain" can be used figuratively to mean "a very small amount", the literal meaning is one piece of something that comes in a very small size. We talk about a "grain of a sand" or a "grain of salt", meaning one of those tiny little chunks. I'd guess that the figurative meaning derives from this: If you say someone "doesn't have a grain of politeness", you are alluding to the tininess of a grain of sand or salt and saying he doesn't even have that little bit. So here, it is a countable number: one grain.
    – Jay
    Oct 20, 2014 at 20:04

There is a common idiom in English, "You have to take this with a grain of salt", meaning, "You can't accept it as it is." This is a metaphor. Some foods don't taste very good as they are, but if you add some salt then they taste good. So you might say, "This doesn't taste good unless you take it with a little salt." So when used as a metaphor, you say, "You can't swallow Bob's ideas as they are. You have to take them with a grain of salt."

A grain of salt is one of those little chunks, the smallest possible piece of salt. So saying you need just "a grain of salt" is a way to make the criticism mild. You don't need a large amount of salt, just a tiny bit.

That said, the writer here mangles the metaphor badly. You can't have "less than" a grain of salt. One grain is the smallest possible amount of salt. So less than one grain would be no salt at all. But then you're taking the metaphor in the wrong direction. If you didn't need any salt, then that would mean that the thing is fine as it is. But that's the opposite of what the writer is trying to say. What he probably should have said was that you need "more than a grain of salt". Occasionally people will stretch this metaphor and say "you don't need just a grain of salt with Senator Smith's promises, you need a tablespoon full", etc. The statement would have made more sense that way.