In the Grimms Kinder und Hausmärchen text Vom klugen Schneiderlein, 1815 #28 there is a line:

Da sprach die Prinzessin: »ich habe zweierlei Haar auf dem Kopf, von was für Farben ist das?« »Wenn’s weiter nichts ist, sagte der erste, es wird schwarz und weiß seyn, wie Kümmel und Salz.«

In 1850 the line is changed as follows:

Da sprach die Prinzessin »ich habe zweierlei Haar auf dem Kopf, von was für Farben ist das?« »Wenns weiter nichts ist,« sagte der erste, »es wird schwarz und weiß sein, wie Tuch, das man Kümmel und Salz nennt

The questions are:

  • are there any literary references to a type of cloth that is called “Kümmel und Salz”?

  • are there any images of cloth that is called “Kümmel und Salz”?

  • is “Kümmel und Salz” an idiom (eine Redensart)?

That the words are supposed to express the idea of something "black and white" can be seen from the context of the text.

A search at the DTa gives 161 examples of the phrase “Pfeffer und Salz” (pepper and salt), but it only give 10 examples of the phrase “Kümmel und salz” (caraway and salt). Of those 10 examples, 6 are from this KHM text. The other 4 are related to cooking. The modern word for black and white fabric is “Pepitastoff” as I understand it. That the phrase was might have been somewhat unclear to readers in the past can also be seen by the change in the 1850 edition where the words “wie Tuch, das man” (as the cloth, that one) was inserted before the words “Kummel und Salz” so that the phrase then read: “as the cloth, that one called Kümmel and salt.” The phrase is related to a type of cloth and it seems to be unique to the Grimms and the KHM. I have found no other references for the words “Kümmel und Salz” related to a type cloth. Also, the phrase seems to have been important enough to Wilhelm that he never changed the word “Kümmel” to “Pfeffer” or some other type of black seed. There is an entry in the 1862 book “Das Deutsche Gaunerthum,” Bd. 4. Leipzig, by Friedrich Christian Benedikt, where there are references on pg 563 and 594 to “Kümmel and Salz” being rogues language for “[black] powder and [shooting] lead.” This is not likely to be the meaning in this text. I can’t find anything on this cloth that Wilhelm Grimm describes.

  • Pepper used to be a very expensive spice, other than caraway which is native to Europe - Doesn't quite fit into "Volksmärchen". It could well be that what we call "Pfeffer- und Salz" used to be called like that. – tofro Dec 29 '17 at 17:22
  • This cloth is called "Salt and Pepper" svenssons.se/p/soffor/tillbeh%C3%B6r-till-soffor-och-fotpallar/… – Beta Dec 29 '17 at 17:56
  • Hello Tofro! I had considered that pepper was expensive also and that the word "Kümmel" might have been used because the of "lowly status" of the tailors. Tailors might not have had access such an expensive spice, but they still could have been aware of it. Even though they might not be able to buy it, they still could have known of it. I am wondering why I can not find any references to "Kümmel und Slaz Tuch." From my experience, Jacob and Wilhelm did not just use random words in their writings. There usually a specific reason that a word was used. Consider the words they defined in the KHM – Oliver-Grimm Dec 29 '17 at 19:05
  • Remember "Grimms Märchen" were stories that were handed down from generation to generation only vocally until the Grimm brothers first wrote them down. And the Grimm brothers tried to (sometimes even pretended to) rather document than author their fairytales. Some of the wording they used was intended to show authenticity and historic vintage. – tofro Dec 29 '17 at 20:29
  • Sure somewhat. Many were also taken directly from literary sources. #69 "Jorinde and Joringel" was taken from a book by Heinrich Stilling. "The Hand with the Knife" was taken from a book by Anne Grant. "Rapunzel" came from Friedrich Schulz. By my count, 63 KHM texts were taken directly from other books. What would be interesting is to see if the original manuscript for the tailor text exists and how it is written there. Of course, none of this answers the question. I am hoping that there is an answer, but can accept it if no answer exists. It took 35 years to even clarify it. – Oliver-Grimm Dec 29 '17 at 20:53

Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch:

'kümmel und salz' geschäftlicher name eines stoffmusters, einer aus braungrau und weisz gemischten farbe.

Südhessisches Wörterbuch:

K[ümmel] unn Salz [...] gesprenkelt, von Kleiderstoffen, und zwar graues Garn und blaues Leinen (bis ~ 1880) [...]; grau und schwarz [...]

Bei einer Suche über Google Books nach "'Kümmel und Salz' Farbe" wird man auch fündig. Beispielsweise: "... die Farben Salz und Pfeffer, oder Kümmel und Salz, die jetzt Abd-el-Raders Bart heißen" (1841); ein Wams "von Farbe wie Kümmel und Salz" (1811); "[...] dazu trug ich eine abscheuliche Kappe von Roßhaarzeug, grau und weiß gesprenkelt, eine sogenannte Kümmel-und-Salz-Kappe [...]" (Wilhelm Heinrich von Riehl)

Als Redewendung kann man das schon bezeichnen. Im Übrigen ist vereinzelt eine Bedeutungsweitung erkennbar. Beachte die zweite Definition im Südhessischen Wörterbuch:

grau meliert, vom Haupthaar

Auch Ludwig Grimm hat das Wort so verwendet: "er hatte eine glatze, und die haare waren wie kümmel und salz" (DWB).

Möglicherweise - reine Spekulation - lässt sich aus diesem Hierarchieverhältnis der Definitionen auch die in der Frage beobachtete Änderung verstehen: In der neueren Version wird die Wortverwendung ja gewissermaßen auf ihre Urbedeutung "zurückgeführt", was ja durchaus den Grund haben könnte, dass der Begriff als Beschreibung für Nicht-Stoffe nicht (mehr) flächendeckend verstanden wurde.

  • Seems very plausible. It seems to me that the Grimms incorporated this idiomatic expression precisely because it had not been previously used in literature. People said it, but it was not written in books. In the book by Bluhm+Rölleke, they list the many idiomatic expressions in the KHM. This particular one looks to not have made it into their book. If the meaning of "cloth" is the earlier meaning, then it would make sense to clarify it this way. Wilhelm himself said: "Fortwährend bin ich bemüht gewesen, Sprüche und eigentümliche Redensarten des Volks, auf die ich immer horche, einzutragen." – Oliver-Grimm Dec 30 '17 at 16:08
  • You should accept this answer then. You won’t get a better source than Grimm’s DWB. – Crissov Jan 2 '18 at 16:07

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