Just like how pepper can make you sneeze, onions in fiction can produce oceans of tears, giving the appearance that you have experienced a horrendous tragedy, instead of the mild eye irritation that occurs in boring Real Life. Oftentimes, onions will make the characters sob uncontrollably, rather than just leak a few tears from the eyes.
In Real Life, if the onions are green or very fresh, especially if cut very close to the root end, 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.
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.
- A 90's Papa Johns commercial had two employees talking, and they both start tearing up as they talk about how rough the job can be and how everything has to be "perfect". That's when their manager comes up and gives them more onions to chop up.
- 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 Ranma ½ 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).
- Referenced in One Piece. Minor antagonist Wanze is a chef who wears goggles. A reader asked why, and Word of God is that Wanze wears them to protect his eyes when he chops an onion.
- In GO-GO Tamagotchi! episode 40, several Tamagotchis are auditioning for a TV show and are being asked to cry on command. Spacytchi attempts to cheat by using an onion to make himself tear up, but the director discovers the onion and Spacytchi is disqualified.
- Weaponized by Laguna in EDENS ZERO, whose power allows him to One-Hit KO anyone who cries in his presence no matter the source of the tears. Against particularly tough or emotionally-controlled enemies, he brings out an onion to force them to cry.
- In episode 6b of Jewelpet: Magical Change, Airi and Ruby investigate a room in the school that is said to be crying. When Ruby enters the room, she discovers there's a portrait that is indeed crying because Mozart, who is in a potrait right next to him, is peeling an onion. Ruby solves the problem by painting a snorkel mask on the tearful art piece.
- Akis: In "Why Oh Why", Akis' attempt to mimic a woman's acting from a TV program involves her smashing an onion on her face to make her tear up. The onion stings her eyes so much that she can't stop crying.
- In episode 10 of Happy Heroes, everyone is fawning over how good the food from the rice cooker tastes, and they even start to tear up over it... or not. The tears are actually just from Sweet S. chopping up some onions.
- In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Joys of Seasons episode 31, Wolffy has to water the seed of a remembering flower with his tears so that he can feed the resulting plant to Wolnie and restore her memory. One of his attempts to water the seed is to place two halves of an onion over his eyes to make him cry, which doesn't work.
- Calvin and Hobbes:
Calvin: Why are you crying, Mom?
Mom: I'm cutting up an onion.
Calvin: [to audience] It must be hard to cook when you anthropomorphize your vegetables.
- In a Mafalda comic strip, Mafalda's mother is tearing up while peeling onions, and her precocious child (who is always worried about the situation of the world) brings her a terrestrial globe "so that she can cry for something more altruistic than an onion".
- In a Kudzu sequence parodying Jimmy Swaggart's prostitution scandal, Reverend Will B. Dunn started crying on his show. The last frame revealed that he was using this method.
- 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.
- In Pinocchio, Stromboli takes a bite of an onion and talks close to Pinocchio giving him tears.
- 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.
- Gargamel subjects Papa Smurf to this with this Smurf essence extractor in The Smurfs.
- Used for a gag in Show People. Peggy has to play a dramatic crying scene in the film she's starring in, but she can't cry on command. Onion slicing is one of several attempts to get her to produce tears.
- In Julie & Julia, Julia Child is practicing cutting onions. Her husband Paul walks into their kitchen and immediately tears up, starts wiping his eyes, and hurries out of the room.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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".
- In Bored of the Rings, the Vee-Ates launch a gas attack on Serutanland by catapulting in suicide scallions:
When the trip was released, the eight-foot onions soared in a high arc over the walls and set up a huge cloud of acrid fog upon impact. Through the glass the party saw the narcs feverishly wiping their streaming eyes with dirty black handkerchiefs.
- In The Last Safe Place On Earth by Richard Peck, the narrator (who's on his high school swim team) always wears his swimming goggles when cutting onions, saying, "Call me crazy, but it's better than crying in your onions."
- An episode of Salute Your Shorts had several camp members crying, bemoaning their apparent fate in a dark room, only for it to reveal that they were cutting onions the whole time.
- There was an episode of Three's Company where Janet used the fact that Jack was chopping onions to make Larry think Jack was crying over a fight they'd had.
- On The Muppet Show, Rowlf sings a song about cutting up onions and ends up bawling.
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Out Of Time," Kryten is a bit sad and teary at an event he wanted to keep secret. Realising this didn't make any sense, due to being an android, he tries to cover it up by saying how sad depriving an onion of its skin makes him.
- He had to say that, as when he claimed onions get him every time, Lister points out there were no onions present. He promptly retrieved some from a cupboard and explained he meant the onions he was about to peel get him every time.
- House. "It's a very sad thing, an uncalibrated centrifuge."
- The episode "Night of the Watery Death" of The Wild Wild West has the antagonist's henchwoman use an onion wrapped in a handkerchief to simulate crying as she lies that James West was busy battling danger but sent her with a message.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus. In the "British Showbiz Awards" sketch, when the master of ceremonies wants to cry, he pulls out an onion and holds it up to his eyes. Later on he has a bunch of onions around his neck in case he needs more. He then moves on to a pair of highly visible rubber tubes attached to a squeeze bulb.
- An episode of Are You Being Served? Again! has Mr. Humphries and Mavis cutting onions together. The scene is played out for laughs as the two converse about how happy and great their lives are while also bawling their eyes out from the onions.
- In one episode of Wings, Joe sees Helen crying and asks what's wrong. She claims it's from the onions she's peeling. Except he doesn't fall for it, because she's actually peeling potatoes.
- In one episode of The Brady Bunch, it first appears that Alice is genuinely crying out of emotion, but then it turns out that she was only "crying" because she was cutting an onion.
- A recurring joke on Chef!. In one episode, Gareth has just learned that Deborah is having trouble in her private life, and walks in on her crying in the kitchen. He tries to comfort her, but she matter-of-factly informs him that it's just the onions. Another episode has Gareth and Everton tearfully discussing their problematic love lives.
Everton: Is that you or the onions?
Gareth: No, it's me.
- In Solitary, Val once assigned the guests in Season 2.0 to do this as a challenge. However, since merely peeling onions wouldn't have had the desired effect, Val took it Up to Eleven by having them grate several onions into pulp, releasing all the fumes. The effect was so severe that the guests experienced watering eyes, dripping noses, burning throats, and even stomach pains. There was a good deal of curses of anger and expressions of pain, but no weeping. Several of them compared the experience to standing in tear gas, or having someone put a handful of chili powder in their eyes.
- A Saturday Night Live sketch had Kevin Nealon playing a TV interview show host whose sole purpose was to make the interviewee cry over an emotional admission - at one point he's interviewing Burt Reynolds (Norm MacDonald) who remains stoic and straight-faced until Nealon waves an onion under his nose.
- Elliot Stabler from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit sometimes brings pieces of onion into the interrogation room to feign sympathy with the perpetrators.
- On an early episode of The Paper Chase, a scene opens with a close-up of Hart weeping as he describes how mean Prof. Kingsfield is; camera pulls back to show him chopping up a bunch of onions.
- I Love Lucy has Ricky crying while calculating the losses from Lucy's failed salad dressing business. At least it appears that way until he sobs, "Oh, get these onions out of here!" A plate of chopped onions right under his nose is what was making him "cry."
- The 1980's run of Let's Make a Deal often had the "World's Largest Crying Towel" as one of the Zonks, which usually featured the announcer or model sitting at it cutting a bucket of onions.
- 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.
- In The Hidden Almanac, one of the history moments concerns an art work titled "Eleven Hundred Small Bits of Onion". Reverend Mord recalls that it was "reported to be a success, as no one could view it without bursting into tears, although some art critics suggested that this method was probably cheating."
- Our Miss Brooks: In the episode "Tears for Mr. Boynton," Mrs. Davis advises Miss Brooks that she has to appear more vulnerable to attract Mr. Boynton. Davis hides onions in Miss Brooks' purse. In fact, the sobbing Miss Brooks is very successful in getting sympathy from Mr. Conklin and Walter Denton. She even gets Mr. Boynton to propose . . . almost.
- In Sam and Max: Situation Comedy, the Freelance Police pay a hefty sum for a "Tear gas gun" that turns out to be a salad shooter full of onions. But it works!
- In Tokimeki Memorial 2, one of the Drama clips of Mei Ijuin 's Blooming Stories CD has her cooking a meal for the main protagonist she has begun to fall in love with. As she's cutting an onion (her most hated food, which speaks for how much she cares for him), she reminisce about their childhood and how his selfless attitude towards her hasn't changed since then. Moved to tears by these thoughts, but prideful as ever, she claims the onions are making her cry.
- In The Binding of Isaac the "sad onion" is an item that increases your tears (fire rate).
- In Jack the Nipper in Coconut Capers, naughty points are achieved by using an onion to make hyenas cry.
- Cuphead features a boss fight against a trio of giant vegetables known as the Root Pack, one of them being an onion named Weepy who attacks the player with his tears.
- This happens twice in the Puyo Puyo series, usually caused by the onion-headed Onion Pixie:
- In Sig's WakuWaku course in Puyo Puyo Fever 2, Sig will remark that "That onion made me cry" after defeating him.
- In Chronicle, as the party makes their way through the Color Tower, they all get assaulted by an oniony stench making their eyes tear up. Surely enough, Onion Pixie is also nearby.
- This Cyanide & 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.
- Defied in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip. A man rubs a fresh onion over his eye to demonstrate how "not-sad" he is when his teenage daughter is distraught over her favorite band's favorite member leaving. The last panel shows that the onion really did irritate his eye, and the father faked his reaction just to mess with his daughter.
Father: Such a good dad.
- In Megan Kearney's Beauty and the Beast, Beauty's sister Temperance chops onions to hide her tears as she says goodbye to Beauty when the latter decides to go back to the Beast after her Love Epiphany. A clever inversion of the similar scene in the original tale (see above under "Literature"), in keeping with the sisters' Adaptational Heroism in this retelling.
- The heroine of Gourmet Hound invokes this trope on the very first page, chopping a comically large pile of onions in a deeply unconvincing attempt to pretend she isn't crying over the recent changes at her favorite restaurant.
- In one episode of American Dragon: Jake Long, Spud finds a way to get girls by eating onions to make it look like he is crying and gain their sympathy.
- Spongebob Squarepants:
- Parodied in "My Pretty Seahorse". 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, "Something Smells", Spongebob has Gary play sad violin music in anticipation of cutting onions.
- In The Smurfs episode "Crying Smurfs", Papa Smurf's fomula accdiently spilled on an onion. When Greedy is about to cut an onion to slices for his salad, a strong smell comes up to his eyes - causing him to start crying. Later, Smurfette and other smurfs (except Hefty and Papa) started crying after having the salad, caused the village flooded with tears.
- One episode of Drawn Together showed Captain Hero's poor emotional state by showing him crying in the shower, crying while being lost in a mall, 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 a man coming to the door crying quite copiously, which is immediately revealed to the audience to be caused by onion-chopping.
- The episode, "Fairy Friends & Neighbors!" 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 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 the 1960 short "Insultin' the Sultan", Popeye, as a new Foreign Legion recruit, cries onion tears after telling his commanding officer that he'd never cried in his life.
- 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.
- Tiny Toon Adventures:
- In a 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 "Grandma's Dead", Mac Duff, Elmyra's father, is trying to desalinize tears so he can turn them into drinking water. To collect his tears, he intentionally chops onions while listening to sad music on the radio.
- In "Crying". 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. Cut to 80 years later, and Butt-Head is still mocking Beavis for his Onion Tears before he finally dies.
- In the Recess episode, "The Biggest Trouble Ever", this happens to the main six when they have to chop onions as punishment for breaking the statue of Thaddeus T. Third III.
Mikey: "It's hard to tell where the onion crying stops and the 'loss of a carefree childhood' crying begins!"
- The Gravedale High episode "Monster Gumbo" has Duzer and the snakes that make up her hair shedding tears as they chop onions to make Blanche's monster gumbo.
- The episode "Madeline at the Cooking School" shows all the girls sobbing the first time they chop onions in their cooking class.
- In "Madeline and the Soccer Star," when Madeline's Country Cousin Andre doesn't know how to play soccer and can't join the girls' game, he tries to hide his tears by blaming them on the onions he's growing in the garden.
- The Xiaolin Showdown episode "Hear Some Evil See Some Evil" has the monks with tears in their eyes the night after they eavesdrop on each other's thoughts with the newest Shen Gong Wu, only for it to be because they are chopping onions.
- The Mighty B! episode "Portrait of a Happy" Bessie chops onions crying during the problem french photographer Fritz gave her about not accepting Happy's accidents or taking his pictures and after he unknowingly did it.
- In the "Louse on 92nd Street" arc of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bullwinkle accidentally gets into the getaway car of gangster Fingers Scarnose after buying onions. Amidst the chaos, Bullwinkle's bag of onions gets shot at, causing Bullwinkle, Scarnose and everyone else in the car to get teary-eyed.
- The DiC Entertainment version of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero had this happen in the episode "Cobra Land", where Cobra Commander makes the Joes look bad by lying that he's a changed man and wishes to make up for his previous crimes. As part of his sympathy act, Cobra Commander eats an onion to simulate tears.
- The Casagrandes: The episode "Snack Pact" has the Casagrande family (except Rosa) learn about a food truck whose tamales are the best they've ever tasted. Knowing that Rosa is bitterly jealous over anyone whose food supposedly tastes better than hers, they decide to distract her while they get the tamales. Bobby's method of distracting Rosa is by chopping the onions for her. This results in him crying so hard his Onion Tears overlap with Inelegant Blubbering (Ocular Gushers, loud sobbing, red eyes, runny nose, the works!). His face is still stained with tears when he dials in his cousin Carlota.
- 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.
- Also, this trope can be averted by proper cutlery know-how. Most of the chemicals that cause irritation to the eyes are located in the area near the root of the onion, so by simply not cutting there, and using correct technique, you can avoid watery eyes.
- An old cooking trick is to hold a piece of bread in your mouth (not a mouthful of bread, but a whole slice, so some of it is sticking out). Others say to chew the bread slowly. Or, freeze the onion, and/or cut it under your stove vent fan set on high.
- 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.
- Though onions in general can lead to tears, they can be lessened by choosing your onions wisely. More pungent onions, including most red onions, will trigger more than a few tears in most people, while sweet onions like Vidalia or candy onions probably won't cause as much crying.