Popular etymology strikes again

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Mon Jun 2 13:00:53 UTC 2003

Happening to tune in to the end of a consumer magazine, "You and
Yours", on BBC Radio 4 this lunchtime, I heard the presenters explain
the origin of the phrase "to know one's onions" as coming from the
name of C T Onions, who was, they said, so well regarded that he
became the epitome of the well-regarded expert.

The presenters seem to have accepted unchecked a story told them by a
couple of listeners. Was it just another example of a folk etymology,
albeit a delicious one for people in the business? Or might it have
been a practical joke along the lines of those "Life in 1500 e-mails"
e-mails that used to circulate? I await a response to my message to
the producers ...

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at worldwidewords.org>
Web: <http://www.worldwidewords.org/>

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