Green’s Dictionary of Slang

salt n.2

[abbr. colloq. old salt]

as a veteran, an exemplar.

(a) a veteran sailor.

[US]N. Ames Mariner’s Sketches 7: The ceremony of shaving on crossing the line was omitted, to the manifest disappointment of the ‘old salts’.
[US]R.H. Dana Two Years before the Mast (1992) 2: My complexion and hands were enough to distinguish me from the regular salt.
[UK]C. Selby London By Night I i: I am too old a salt to allow myself to drift on the quicksand of woman’s perfidy.
[UK]T. Hughes Tom Brown at Oxford (1880) 74: He can turn his hand to anything, like most old salts.
[UK]E. Greey Queen’s Sailors III 250: ‘How are you goin’ to spend your whack, Joseph?’ demanded another old salt.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 7 Feb. 13/2: Here was an old salt of some 60 years, nearly 40 of which were spent in coasting.
[UK]W.S. Gilbert ‘The Martinet’ Fifty ‘Bab’ Ballads 214: ‘Down, upstart!’ said the hardy salt.
[US]J.S. Wood Yale Yarns 127: ‘Say, boys— ye must expect a nor’-wester to-night,’ sang out an old salt.
[UK]Sporting Times 9 June 1/3: [They] asked each individual mariner to leave his pipe at the door. This the salts cheerfully did.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 9 Feb. 1/1: Her jealousy of the captain is driving that salt to suicide.
[Aus]Truth (Melbourne) 31 Jan. 6/1: What a real salt that skipper is the way he brings her alongside the old jetty.
[US]E. Anderson Hungry Men 110: Don’t your aunts like old salts?
[US]N. Algren Man with the Golden Arm 195: The Humbodlt Park salt snickered.
[US](con. 1945) E. Thompson Tattoo (1977) 266: ‘The salt,’ someone crowed.

(b) attrib. use of sense 1a.

[US](con. 1843) Melville White-Jacket (1990) 312: It is often observable, that [...] the men who talk the most sailor lingo are the least sailor-like in reality. You may sometimes hear even marines jerk out more salt phrases than the captain of the forecastle himself.

(c) in non-naval contexts, a fine example.

[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker III 40: Let us walk into half a bushel of these iseters; they are rael salts.

(d) a veteran of any experience or discipline.

[US]M. Baker Nam (1982) 120: They didn’t want salts from the field to go even near Da Nang.