"A hard man is he who an onion shreds, yet not a teardrop sheds."
Just like pepper can make you sneeze
, in fiction onions and especially the act of peeling them can produce oceans of tears, looking more like that all your family has died than like the mild eye irritation that occurs in boring Real Life
. Oftentimes in fiction onions will make the characters appear to be actually sad, and make loud weeping noises, rather than just leak a bit from the eyes. Of course, in Real Life
, if the onions are green or very fresh, they can produce the copious tears, often accompanied by sniffing (because your tear ducts and nasal tubes are connected), but not the sobbing (although sometimes, the tears and sniffling can make you congested, forcing you to breathe through your mouth and send you even one step closer to the appearance of sobbing.)
This has several useful applications for those with something to hide: either you can disguise your real tears of pain by grabbing some onions to peel (compare Sand In My Eyes
), or you can use onions to get tears in your eyes and simulate real pain when you don't feel it. It makes you wonder
why this wasn't used in film production.
Vaguely related is the situation in anime where a character simulates crying while not-very-subtly holding an eyedropper bottle. Apparently only the audience can see it, though.
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Anime & Manga
- This actually happens to Tommy in Digimon Frontier, the kids are forced to make burgers so they can save a digimon from Arbormon. He puts onions in his, and he even comments on it with the line "Here come the tears".
- In Vandread, Pai sees Dita and Hibiki in the kitchen, with Dita crying. She assumes that Hibiki upset Dita somehow, and uses this as an argument to get the men kicked off the ship. She feels bad later when she discovers that Dita was just chopping onions . . . because she and Hibiki were making her a surprise meal to celebrate her anniversary aboard the ship.
- In episode 10 of Season 1 of K-on, both Yui and Ritsu do this. Yui in particular looks cute while doing it.
- One episode of Ranma½ involved a mirror that could allow whoever held it to travel through time if their tears fell on it (which appeared in a previous episode). Genma tries to invoke this by shoving onions in Ranma's face.
- An episode of Sailor Moon had Usagi and Chibiusa invite a young girl home for dinner. When the girl talks about how sad she is that she doesn't think her mother loves her, she asks if she could help them chop up an onion.
- Episode 10 of Dragon Crisis! starts with Ai, Rose and Misaki all crying heavily, then shows that they are chopping onions at a picnic.
- Iori in Episode 3 of the anime adaptation of THE iDOLM@STER
- Onion Oni from Anpanman has managed to weaponize this. He tosses onions and uses his kanabo to peel and slice them by whacking at them. The onion slices then land on the eyes of his victim (normally Baikinman in this case). Also, Onion Oni himself (his head's an actual onion, with two sprouts acting as his horns) is a bit of a crybaby (he's still a little boy, but he doesn't like being seen as just a kid).
- This happens in the movie Last Holiday with Queen Latifah. Chef Didier discovers Georgia (Latifah) is dying and uses the fact that he is chopping onions to pretend to conceal his sorrow when she asks him not to be sad.
- Averted in Diva with hipster-outlaw Gorodish, who uses a diving mask and snorkel when he chops onions in his kitchen.
- Mentioned in A Series of Unfortunate Events, where the Lemony Narrator uses peeling an onion as a metaphor for reading his tragic books— as you peel off more and more papery layers, tears flow from your eyes. In The Film of the Book, Count Olaf does something akin to the anime fake-crying mentioned — he turns around and squirts eyedrops into his eyes, which the audience sees but the person being fooled apparently doesn't.
- Which also proves that he's terrible at his chosen profession of acting. Good actors can usually make themselves cry on command, right? Well, there you go.
- Good actors can make the -audience- cry on command. Being able to make -yourself- cry isn't necessary, especially in stage acting.
- Older Than Radio: In Mme LePrince de Beaumont's "Beauty and the Beast", Beauty's sisters use Onion Tears to emotionally blackmail her into staying home.
- In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, Criid blames her tearfulness on the onions. Given that she had just commented that grief lasts a long time...
- Remember Oliver North (American politics, 1980s)? Dave Barry joked of him that "his eyes moist, he gestured patriotically with his hand and knocked over his bottle of Revlon Eye Moistener."
- In The Kite Runner, the narrator (Amir) writes a story about a man whose tears turn into pearls when he sheds them into a magic cup—when the man discovers this power of his, he kills his wife so that he can cry over her death and become rich with pearls. When Amir's friend Hassan reads the story, he asks Amir, "Why did he have to kill his wife? Why couldn't he have just smelled an onion?"
- Used in "Overture To Death" by Ngaio Marsh. The murderer's plan depends on everyone thinking she's in a great deal of pain. She uses a hidden onion to provide the tears as she "sobs".
Live Action TV
- Private Eye uses the device "[Takes out onion]" to indicate/allege that a character (real or fictional) in its satires is insincere in his/her sorrow.
- A dead baby joke runs thus: What's the difference between a baby and an onion? You don't cry when you cut up a baby. Also applies to bagpipes, accordions, and violas.
- An unrelated joke actually inverts this trope: You are so ugly you made an onion cry.
- This Cyanide and Happiness comic either subverts the trope or plays it straight in an unusual way... with C&H you can never be too sure.
- This page from Homestuck has Dave being pelted with onions while being cooked by crocodiles, with expected results.
- In this Think Before You Think comic, Julia tries to explain her tears by saying she was cutting up onions, which leads to a complex chain of lies.
- It happens later with Brian here.
- Subverted in this Amazing Super Powers comic.
- Parodied in an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. Squidward appears to be crying at Spongebob's story about his sea horse, but he's actually reacting to a bowl of onions that someone has left on the counter. This becomes a Running Gag, and on the third time, Squidward is loading off the onions to someone else.
- In another episode, Spongebob has Gary play sad violin music in anticipation of cutting onions.
- One episode of Drawn Together showed Captain Hero's poor emotional state by showing him crying in the shower, crying while playing video games, and whistling cheerfully while chopping onions.
- There's a Harveytoon of Little Audrey. She sings a sad song to get people crying, and then she cuts up onions to encourage even the hardhearted to cry.
- In Hey Arnold!, when Sid thinks his voodoo-doll he carved out of soap has actually succeeded in killing the principal, one of the contrived coincidences keeping him in that illusion is someone coming to the door crying, which is immediately revealed to the audience to be caused by onion-chopping.
- In Shrek 4-D (the 3-D Movie that plays at Universal Studios), newlywed Fiona is crying because her carriage is an onion. It's also referenced in the original Shrek movie during the "ogres are like onions" scene — Donkey suggests, "They make you cry!" as one of the possible connections.
- One episode of The Fairly Oddparents had Timmy's parents making friends with a (disguised) Cosmo and Wanda and running off on adventures every day, leaving him with his evil babysitter. Eventually, they decide that they can't keep neglecting Timmy, as proven by Timmy's tears... which are from Vicky forcing him to peel onions.
- Happens in Taz-Mania with Constance Koala and Mr. Thickley in the episode "Heartbreak Taz".
- A vintage Popeye cartoon has him and Bluto trying to cheer up a bawling Swee'Pea. Naturally it escalates into fighting, and while Bluto is pummeling Popeye like a speed bag, Popeye reaches for a can of spinach, and grabs a can of onions instead. Very soon, Popeye, Bluto, and Olive are all wailing loudly, which causes Swee'Pea to laugh uproariously.
- Canned onions are cooked already and would be about as likely to make you cry as a Patton Oswalt routine.
- Another later cartoon had Bluto in court accusing Popeye of assault, and giving heavily one-sided examples. We then cut to Wimpy, the judge, who at first appears to be crying over Bluto's story, but it's quickly revealed that he's simply cutting an onion for his hamburger.
- In one episode of The Wild Thornberrys, the family becomes stranded in the desert without any water. Marianne becomes so desperate with thirst that she attempts to make herself cry with onions so she can drink her tears.
- In Pinocchio, Stromboli takes a bite of an onion and talks close to Pinocchio giving him tears.
- In a Tiny Toon Adventures Parody Episode of Star Wars, the characters try to find Plucky by inserting one of his feathers into their rocket's computer. However, it starts tickling the computer making their rocket go out of control, so the gang have to peel onions in order to make it cry and go back to normal.
- In a post-UnCancelation episode of Beavis And Butthead, Beavis cries from exposure to a slice of onion found in his chili dog, and Butt-Head makes fun of him for it, much to Beavis's frustration.
- The Powerpuff Girls episode "Him Diddle Riddle" has Him posing the challenge to the girls to "bring tears to the eyes" on Townsville's people, so Bubbles and Buttercup set about making people cry which Blossom finds is wasting time. Blossom gets doused with puddle water from a passing car, with visual result making Bubbles think she'd been crying. It gives Blossom the realization that bringing tears to their eyes didn't mean to make everyone cry, so in a dark cloud, she uses her static electricity power to create a thunderstorm. The raindrops are the tears brought to the eyes of the people.
- The main six in Recess after having to chop onions as punishment.
- When the onion's cell walls are breached by cutting, the chemicals inside combine to form this gas, which irritates the lacrimal glands. A sharp blade will crush fewer cells. Cutting your onions underwater (e.g. in a bowl) or wearing sufficient eye protection prevents the gas from reaching your eyes. Rub stainless steel or wash your hands between cutting onions and touching your face, or this comes up in full force.
- Fox News Channel commentator Glenn Beck spoofed his tendency to tear up on camera in a video showing an intern dabbing Vicks Vap-O-Rub under his eyes. Yes, the video is a joke.
- Thinkgeek.com sells special onion goggles to avoid just this.note
- Buying frozen pre-chopped onions eliminates this problem altogether.