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If you call someone a "funny onion" this means they are a strange person. I can find some references to this expression online (e.g. http://thefunnyonion.co.uk/newsletter/Oct2012/index.html) but nothing about its history or origin.

Where does this expression come from and when?

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  • Not one I'm familiar with, in Britain. But we talk about someone knowing his onions. Not sure where that comes from either.
    – WS2
    Oct 16, 2016 at 21:44
  • It appears to be an Irish expressions. Ireland is known for growing onions.
    – user66974
    Oct 16, 2016 at 22:12

5 Answers 5

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I've never heard this phrase myself in the UK, but suggest it may be a lighthearted derivative of 'Funny 'un' with ''un' being a north of England colloquialism for 'one' and 'funny 'un' rhyming with 'onion. Googling "funny 'un" brings up a bunch of references to the 'face like a Spanish/pickled onion' song.

My xxxx's is a funny'un
He's got a nose like a pickled onion
He's got a face like a squashed tomato
And eyes like green peas/We'll have some for tea/.

or

Old xxxx's a funny un
With a face like a Spanish onion
And the hairs on her *dikidido
Hang down to her knees.

or

Old xxxx's a funny un
He's (or She's) got a face like a Spanish Onion
A nose like a squashed tomato
And legs like two props/chops

So I suggest that these provide evidence that people enjoy the association of 'Funny 'un' with 'onion' and that a similar process leads to the repetitive syllable version of 'funny onion'.

*I'm choosing to assume that this means 'chin'.

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  • Very good, I 'adn't thowt o' that lass! Tha's brilliant!
    – BoldBen
    Oct 17, 2016 at 9:45
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I grew up (in the UK) with the term 'funny onion' as a gentle description of someone being a little eccentric, but I haven't heard it in a long time. I had the feeling that 'onion' was used as a synonym for 'head' so I searched for that and found this reference in a Google ebook Wings for Our Courage: Gender, Erudition and Reuplican Thought (the reference is about half way down the page). This shows that the Florentines used 'onion' to mean 'head' although mainly in relation to decapitation.

I'm not suggesting that the British term is derived from the Florentine one but I am suggesting that a parallelism of thought could easily have lead to a similar analogy. This is particularly true since other vegetables and fruit are used as slang terms for the head: nut, coconut, swede and melon are all used, or have been used, with varying levels of insulting association.

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  • That's very interesting. I am even having problems finding an early written reference. What is the earliest you have found?
    – Simd
    Oct 17, 2016 at 8:40
  • @Lembik That's it!!! I was beginning to think I was lucky to get that.
    – BoldBen
    Oct 17, 2016 at 9:29
  • Sorry what do you mean by "That's it!!! " ?
    – Simd
    Oct 17, 2016 at 9:31
  • @Lembik That's the only reference I've found!
    – BoldBen
    Oct 17, 2016 at 9:44
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It's Geordie. Funny onion is " funny'un" meaning funny one,

An old rude rhyme and song from the 50/60s recited:

Old xxxx is a funny'un

Has a nose like a pickle onion,

Eyes like bashed tomatoes,

And legs like pit props,

One pink one,

One white one,

And one with a bit of shite on,

And the hairs on her dikidido hung down to her knees,

I've seen it,

I've smelt it,

I've even fu...king dealt it,

And the hairs on her dikidido hung down to her knees

Etc, etc, etc.......

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My mother grew up in Dawley,England beginning the mid 1920’s. She would fondly refer to me as a ‘funny onion” if I was doing something goofy or strange. She use to say it came from a humorous deviation of funny ‘un.

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Could it just be that "funny" onions are rare? I mean, onions usually make you cry when you slice them, not laugh or smile, as a "funny" onion would be supposed to do (if it existed.) What do you think?

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