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"A hard man is he who an onion shreds, yet not a teardrop sheds."
The Seasonings by PDQ Bach

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.

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.

Examples of Onion Tears include:

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 Serena and Rini 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

Fairy Tales

  • Done in the unbowdlerised Beauty and The Beast by the stepsisters (who had to fake being sad about their lil sis leaving).


  • 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.
  • In Mme LePrince de Beaumont's Beauty and The Beast, Beauty's sisters use Onion Tears to emotionally blackmail her into staying home, making this at least Older Than Radio.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, Criid blames her tearfulness on the onions. Given that she had just commented that grief last 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

  • There was a 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.
  • Subverted in an episode of The Brady Bunch when it first appears that Alice is genuinely crying out of emotion. It turns out that she was only "crying" because she really 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 Mac Donald) who remains stoic and straight-faced until Nealon waves an onion under his nose.
  • Elliot Stabler from Law and Order Special Victims Unit sometimes brings pieces of onion into the interrogation room to feign sympathy with the perpetrators.


  • 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.

Newspaper Comics

 Calvin: Why are you crying, Mom?

Mom: I'm cutting up an onion.

Calvin: 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.

Oral Tradition

  • 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.
    • I heard that joke with bagpipes.
      • I heard it with a viola.
      • I see your bagpipes and viola and raise you an accordion.
  • An unrelated joke actually inverts this trope: You are so ugly you made an onion cry.

Video Games

Web Comics

  • 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.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • 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 ~3D 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 Odd Parents 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.
    • Did Not Do the Research -- 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 of the old Harveytoons Little Audrey has to get spirits in the clouds to cry so it will rain. She starts out by singing a sad song, but produces several onions from nowhere to get the crying started.
  • 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' frustration.

Real Life

  • When the onion's cell walls are breached by cutting, the chemicals inside combine to form sulfuric acid.
  • Averted if one runs an onion under water whilst cutting it. Subverted by cutting with the "grain" rather than through layers.
    • Keeping them in the fridge helps, too.
      • Rubbing your eyes makes this trope very much the case though.
      • Plus if you have generally sensitive eyes, it tends to be worse.
    • Also, the sharper your blade, the less you cry. Either way, the blade is going to crush some of the onion's cells and release the irritating sulfites, but a sharp blade will crush fewer cells. And to get the onion smell off your hands afterward, rub stainless steel under running water.
    • Interestingly, wearing contacts can keep you from crying. Explanations for why this is seem to be far and few between, but some speculate it's because the lenses block the sulfites from actually reaching your eyes.
  • 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.
  • sells special onion goggles to avoid just this.[1]
  • Buying frozen pre-chopped onions eliminates this problem altogether.


  1. Otherwise known as ANY set of goggles.
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