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Stinley's avatar

Why do people say 'she knows her onions'?

Asked by Stinley (11505points) June 15th, 2011

What is it about onions that might be complicated or require an encyclopaedic knowledge? Spring onions, white onions, red onions, onion bulbs, onion seeds. There’s probably a bit more to it but it’s not rocket science, is it?

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2 Answers

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

This site has a bit of discussion on the idiom.

thorninmud's avatar

The french idioms involving “oignons” (as referred to in @MyNewtBoobs ‘s link above) have a different etymology. “Oignons” is french slang for butt cheeks, so “s’occuper de ses oignons” means “mind your own butt”, in other words, “mind your own business”.

The english expression to “know one’s onions” seems to have originated in the 1920s (first known referrence was in Harper’s Bazaar in 1922), and was only one of several similar expressions having the same basic meaning: “to know one’s oats”, “to know one’s oil”, “to know one’s apples”, “to know one’s eggs”, and “to know one’s sweet potatoes”. (source). So it doesn’t appear that there is anything special about onions in this context. That’s just the variant of the idiom that survived.

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