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Know your onions

Posted by ESC on May 31, 2003

In Reply to: Know your onions posted by James Briggs 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).

: I had this suggestion sent to me recently.
: "...... but it's not hard to imagine that this comes from the hobby of vegetable growing where a particularly successful gardener, who produces outstanding produce, including onions, would have this said about him."

Sounds like a good theory.