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Posts posted by copper123

    Browse phrases beginning with:
    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T UV W XYZ Full List

    What's the meaning of the phrase 'Know your onions'?

    To be experienced in or knowledgeable about a subject.

    What's the origin of the phrase 'Know your onions'?

    The English grammarian and lexicographer C. T. (Charles Talbut) Onions was an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1895 and continued to write reference works throughout a long and distinguished career. His last work was The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 1966, which was published a year after his death. If I knew as much etymology as he did I could certainly claim to 'know my onions', and it is tempting to assume that this is where the phrase originated.

    Know your onionsIf the 'onions' referred to in the phrase is indeed human rather than vegetable, there is another Mr. Onions that could be our man. S. G. Onions (they were strong on initials in those days) created sets of coins which were issued to English schools from 1843 onwards. These were teaching aids intended to help children learn £.s.d. (pounds, shillings and pence). They looked similar to real coins and had inscriptions like '4 Farthings make 1 Penny' or, as in the example pictured, '12 Pence make 1 shilling'. We can imagine that 'knowing your Onions' might be coined, so to speak, in those circumstances.

    The first known use of 'know your onions' in print, in the 1920s, tends to argue against either of the above men being involved. While it is true that the phrase originated at a time when C. T. Onions had established a reputation, the match between the phrase and his name is just a coincidence. Know your onions is in fact an American phrase. There are many references to it in print there from the 1920s onward, but none in the UK or elsewhere until the middle of the century; for example, this from Harper's Magazine, March 1922:

    "Mr. Roberts knows his onions, all right."

    Another example comes soon afterwards, in The Lima News, May 1923:

    "The Columbus statement declares that the league is ready to give the Donahey boom every aid and comfort. Of course! Why not? Governor Donahey knows his onions..."

    Know your onionsOther phrases that refer to knowing - 'know the ropes', 'doesn't know s*** from Shinola' etc. allude to specific items as the focus of the knowledge. Other 1920s variants of 'know your onions' are 'know your oil/oats/apples' etc. The only one that caught on and is still in common use is 'know your onions'. So, why onions? Well, as the citation above asks - why not? Explanations that relate the phrase to knowledgeable vegetable gardeners, or even to C. T. or S. G. Onions, are just trying too hard. 1920s America was a breeding ground for wacky phrases (see the bee's knees for some examples) and this is just another of those.

    See other phrases that were coined in the USA.


  2. Very kind - I accept your offer - I will of course send you back something of about equal value

    A pic up from the York coin fair this last weekend - almost certainly a Moore counter issued for use in schools which were starting to take off at this time due to a health interest in education in the 1850's


  3. On 1/20/2023 at 11:32 AM, DrLarry said:

    John Cooke and Sons : these are described as advertising pieces .  Rogers says the differences are mainly in the composition and the finishing.  I have been fortunate last year or sometime during the lost years (covid years) to have found a small haul and this gave me a chance to sift through them carefully and I identified a number of variations in the design  which I think gives us the six listed  Rogers #'s 495 to 497a  under section 17 of the book pages 62 and 63.  These new variants I have found differ in the positioning of the legend letters and the size of the letters.   There is also a variation in the die alignment as a medal strike and one as a coin strike.  It would be interesting to understand the process of manufacture and pressing of these tokens in general and I will have to attempt to find out more information 


    The quality of these John Cooke and sons pieces is very high .  If you have any please list them I will take photos over the following days.


  4. WOW thats one hell of a large collection you have there larry - god knows how much its cost you over the years .

    Looking forward to York tommorow I usually find my best stuff in the winter as well

  5. Heres an interesting To hanover counter dated 1862 with diferent sizes of datal figures one is masive and the other quite small - I imagine they were made by the same manufacturer.


  6. The 1844 dated coins were almost certainly specially minted to present as a alternative to the then circulating change , it would be fair to imagine the were given away to lobyists , MP's and various others including the mint  ,Probably as many as fourty were issued for this purpose , though it could be a lot lower than that . Many have been lost and only less than twelve are known now

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