"Onions and garlic"?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Nov 19 03:06:35 UTC 2007

>What is known about the phrase "onions and garlic", used
>figuratively?  I find it in Massachusetts near the end of the 17th
>century in reference to two messages, sent together to the king, that
>are in a sense inconsistent with each other: one asks for military
>support, the other for greater independence from the empire:
>"the representatives, though they send to the king for ships and men,
>yet address him at the same time for their old charter. That is their
>onions and garlic."
>My only thought is that the writer is using the phrase ironically --
>while onions and garlic frequently appear together harmoniously in
>food dishes, here the two messages are not compatible.

I don't know much about it, but of course I can make a perhaps naive

Without knowing the broader context, I would speculate that "onions
and garlic" form an inseparable unit here, meaning either (1) simply
"seasonings" or (2) "strong-smelling/piquant/obtrusive seasonings". I
would not think that "onions" is being opposed to or contrasted with
"garlic". I.e., I would speculate that "request for ships and men"
implicitly = "meat [and potatoes/turnips/etc.]" or so (the expected,
the basics), while "request for the charter" = "[plenty of] onions
and garlic", an addendum which makes the overall dish more
"flavorful", perhaps more so than the king would prefer.

-- Doug Wilson

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