‘S’occuper de ses oignons’ and other phrases you may hear today

The UK has been accused of sticking its nose in the Aukus submarine deal. We look at a common phrase you may hear as a result...

22 September 2021

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

In the midst of the Aukus scandal, the UK, which plays a minimal role in the affair, has been referred to as the ‘fifth wheel of the carriage’ on multiple occasions by the media.

You might therefore hear it said that they should ‘s’occuper de ses oignons’. But what does this expression mean and where does it come from?

Translated as ‘to take care of one’s onions’, the phrase means ‘to mind one’s own business’. 

There are two main explanations for its origins:

The most common hypothesis states that ‘oignons’ was actually slang for the buttocks, a part of the body which should be kept private. Not looking at anybody else’s ‘onions’ would therefore suggest affording them some privacy.

The second theory refers to cultivating the vegetable itself. Somebody who is growing onions in their own garden should not have the time to look at or help with anybody else’s onions.

It is not uncommon to hear “occupe-toi de tes oignons!” (“look after your onions!”), indicating that the recipient of the scolding should not stick their nose into other people’s business.

Here are a few other onion-related expressions you may come across:

When something is done ‘with little onions’ (aux petits oignons’), it is done with a lot of care and attention.

If somebody is ‘dressed like an onion’ (vêtu comme un oignon), they are wearing multiple layers of clothing.

If things are placed ‘in onion rows’ (en rang d'oignon), they are in a straight, neat line.

If you compete in a ‘shallot race’ (une course à l’échalote), you are taking part in a competition where any methods can be used to win.

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