Answer Me This a bit late: Alicky’s salty question


* To listen to episode 2 of Answer Me This!, click here*

Inquisitive listener Alicky, undaunted by the tangled mess Olly made of her name in Episode 2, asks us this:

Helen and Olly, Answer Me This: what is the precise difference between saline and brine?

Alicky, I do hope this is nothing to do with your habit of disembowelling your suitors and measuring the stretchiness of their intestines. Are you pickling them in brine for posterity? I thought we’d already made it clear that Answer Me This! cannot aid and abet such ghoulish behaviour.

(But if we were to pickle a man’s stolen intestines, we would probably opt for vinegar.)

Here comes the semantics bit. Concentrate!

saline (noun) = 1. a metallic salt, containing magnesium, potassium or sodium, used in medicine as a cathartic; 2. salty water.


brine (noun) = 1. water containing a large amount of salt; 2. sea-water; 3. salty pickling fluid; 4. any saline solution.

So I suppose you could say that saline is brine’s mothership.

Hey, come back – there’s more! ‘Brine’ as a verb means to pickle in brine (Alicky, put that pile of guts DOWN).

But the plot thickens if you look at ‘saline’ as an adjective, because in this form it can mean each of these things:
1. of, containing, or resembling table salt;
2. of or pertaining to a chemical salt, especially of sodium, potassium and magnesium, as used as a cathartic.

Confusing these two could ruin your breakfast.

And that’s not the end of the confusion, I’m afraid. For the third adjectival sense of saline is: ‘of or pertaining to a method of abortion involving injection of hypertonic saline solution into the amniotic cavity during the second trimester.’

Now that really could ruin your breakfast.
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