Posted by ESC on May 30, 2003
In Reply to: Know your onions posted by ESC on May 30, 2003
: : I can't find a definitive source for this. Any ideas?
: I've heard it before and feel pretty confident that it's a Southern (U.S.) expression. "He really knows his onions." Meaning he is an expert in something.
: From the archives:
: ONIONS - (plural noun) business, affairs. 1954. W.G. Smith South St. 297: You just sit here, tend to your onions, let me handle the people what cross me. From the "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, H-O" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994.
: Why onions? Mr. Lighter doesn't say. Another definition for "onion" in the same reference is "the head" as in "off one's onion."
"know (one's) onions (or oats or oil or apples, etc.) to be astute or have thorough knowledge, esp. from personal experience; be very knowledgeable.1922 'Harper's' (Mar.) 530: 'Mr. Roberts knows his onions, all right.'." From "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, H-O" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994.
: While I was looking for "knows his onions" I found this phrase. Doesn't have anything to do with onions, but interesting still:
: KNOW ONE'S CANS - "Cowboys on the range in the 19th century were usually starved for reading matter and often read the labels on the cook's tin cans, learning them by heart. A tenderfoot could always be distinguished because he didn't know his cans." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).