Saturday, 23 October 2021

Cardboard cutouts. Knowing your onions. Learning about money. Progress.

 Our coop had no cranberry juice this morning but on the whole, despite notices about shortages doesn’t seem to be doing too badly. I hear that some bigger supermarkets are apparently finding a novel solution to empty shelves. Rather than have a big gap, an expanse of empty metal shelving, they are filling the spaces with cardboard cutouts of the missing products. What exactly is the point?

On the subject of photos of vegetables, my granddaughter posted a picture of a man with a prize winning onion, prompting comments about people knowing their onions. So I googled the expression and got this bit of etymology:

“The English grammarian and lexicographer C. T. (Charles Talbut) Onions was an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1895 and continued to write reference works throughout a long and distinguished career. His last work was The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 1966, which was published a year after his death. If I knew as much etymology as he did I could certainly claim to 'know my onions', and it is tempting to assume that this is where the phrase originated.

If the 'onions' referred to in the phrase is indeed human rather than vegetable, there is another Mr. Onions that could be our man. S. G. Onions (they were strong on initials in those days) created sets of coins which were issued to English schools from 1843 onwards. These were teaching aids intended to help children learn £.s.d. (pounds, shillings and pence). They looked similar to real coins and had inscriptions like '4 Farthings make 1 Penny' or, as in the example pictured, '12 Pence make 1 shilling'. We can imagine that 'knowing your Onions' might be coined, so to speak, in those circumstances.

The first known use of 'know your onions' in print, in the 1920s, tends to argue against either of the above men being involved. While it is true that the phrase originated at a time when C. T. Onions had established a reputation, the match between the phrase and his name is just a coincidence. Know your onions is in fact an American phrase. There are many references to it in print there from the 1920s onward, but none in the UK or elsewhere until the middle of the century; for example, this from Harper's Magazine, March 1922:

"Mr. Roberts knows his onions, all right."

There you go! 

I wonder if those who insist that we should abandon metric measures and only ever use pounds and ounces, feet and inches would like us also to return to pre-metric currency. Pounds and pence are much easier to deal with. I remember those sums we used to have to do involving pounds, shillings and pence. It was very good for our mental arithmetic though. Of course all this dealing with coins might become a thing of the past as we pay for more and more items with our contactless cards. 

I heard an expert of some kind on a radio current affairs programme, bemoaning the fact that it is now harder for children to learn the value of money as they don’t get to handle it. Even children as young as 8 can have a bank card of sorts to use in shops. They asked some teenagers what they thought the average working person earns: about £80,000 on average was one suggestion! Mind you, I think it has always been hard for teenagers to imagine what wages are all about, how much you should expect to be paid. On a more positive note, my daughter-in-law tells me that our 7-year-old granddaughter went off to her Hallowe’en disco equipped with the little bag and little purse with money so that she could purchase drinks and snacks. That’s how they learn!

Here’s another bit of positivity: my Covid vaccination record was finally updated and ai now have a vaccination certificate on my phone. So long as Portugal don’t ban flights to the UK in next week or so, we are travelling again!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

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