S’occuper de ses oignons

Onions

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “S’occuper de ses oignons.”

Literally translated as “taking care of one’s onions,” it means minding one’s own business, and it is used in situations when someone is meddling in someone else’s affairs*.

Example 1: “Je n’ai pas besoin de tes conseils, occupe-toi de tes oignons !” “I don’t need your advice, mind your own business!”

Example 2: “Si tu veux vraiment qu’elle s’occupe de ses oignons, il faut que tu arrêtes de l’appeler à l’aide au moindre problème.” “If you really want her to mind her own business, you have to stop calling her for help every time you have a problem.”

Listen to the idiom and examples read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

The onions in question are old slang** for buttocks, or testicles (can’t wait to see the search engine hits that sentence will generate). The word “onion” is seldom (if ever) used in that sense today, but the idiom lived on.

As you might infer from this explanation, it is a colloquial expression — not vulgar, because most people have forgotten what the onions really refer to, but very informal. It should be used in casual conversation only, and probably not directed at anyone you don’t know very well. In fact, it is one of those idioms that is hazardous for non-native speakers to wield, but it really depends on your fluency and comfort level, so I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Expressio offers an interesting alternate origin: in rural parts of France, women were sometimes allowed to use a section of the vegetable patch to grow onions that they could sell at the market for their own profit, rather than the household’s. The injunction to “take care of her onions” might then have been the husband’s charming way of putting his wife back in her place if he felt she was interfering with his own affairs.

Note that the core of the idiom is the onion reference, and that it can appear under several variations: “Mêle-toi de tes oignons” (meddle with your onions = mind your own business), “C’est pas tes oignons !” or “C’est pas mes oignons.”, the grammatically incorrect but spoken version of Ce ne sont pas tes/mes oignons (these are not your onions = mind your own business; these are not my onions = it’s none of my business).

* Contrary to the English equivalent, it is not used in the more positive sense of, “and here I was, minding my own business, when…”

** Slang = argot in French.

  • Guruman

    I also heard “c’est pas mes oignons”, which has a wonderful equivalent in German: “das ist nicht mein Bier” (that’s not my beer) (of course, “das ist nicht dein Bier” exists in German as well).

  • http://mammamanga.splinder.com Sara

    In Italian, we say
    “Farsi i cavoli propri” where CAVOLI is “cabbage”
    It perfectly translates “s’occuper de ses oignons”

    :D

  • trisha

    Thanks for another great idiom! I am somewhat fluent in conversational French but have been loving the chance to expand ma vocabulaire. :) Merci bien.

  • Halie

    I think in English (American) the phrase “mind your own beeswax” is the near equivalent.

    Thank you for these! They’re so cute, especially for someone like me who’s only an intermediate French-speaker.

  • mc

    what a polyglot readership CZ has!

    in french canada there is a slight variation that we also say: “se mêler de ses oignons”.

  • http://www.spicedish.typepad.com EB

    A (non-food) American equivalent is “Keep your eyes on your own paper” in reference to cheating in school I’m assuming.

  • http://duodishes.wordpress.com The Duo Dishes

    Just love love love these idioms. One of our faves: J’ai d’autres chats à fouetter. Just love to say that!

  • Aiyana

    Oh, les pauvres chats!

    …or am I mistranslating it? And what is the exact meaning of that phrase?

  • yourpapounet

    “J’ai d’autres chats à fouetter” (Lit. “I have other cats to whip”) means “I have other fish to fry”, I have more important things to do.

    Note that there is another phrase involving feline flagellation :
    “Il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat” (Lit. “There is no reason to whip a cat for this”), which could be transposed to “No big deal !”, this matter is of little import…

  • http://www.snapperandthegriffin.blogspot.com Griffin

    The ‘cats’ to whip suggests the cat o’ nine tails a vicious whip used by the British Navy as on board punishment. That’s also where the phrase, ‘Not enough room to swing a cat.’ comes from.

    Onions in British slang are usually known as in, ‘He knows his onions.’ Meaning – he knows what he’s talking about. Not at all like the French equivalent!!

  • Rachel

    I used to think I had a reasonably good knowledge of French idioms, but as this is the first one in your series that I recognise, I feel considerably humbled… and I would never in a million years guessed its origin! (I’ll be much more careful using it now. ;) )

  • http://MyKugelhopf.ch Kerrin

    Here’s another old French onion idiom to be careful of… While “etre aux petits oignons” means to be taken care of fabulously, the phrase “arranger quelqu’un aux petits oignons” actually means quite the opposite – to scold someone violently !!

    I love food idioms, the examples in French are endless…

  • http://theb-line.blogspot.com Amy

    hmmm…I’m afraid I’ll never look at an onion in quite the same way! :)

  • http://eatthinkandbemerry.wordpress.com/ Stephen

    Hi – Couldn’t resist I’m afraid…For ‘buttocks or testicles’ you don’t even make page 3 of Google, though something on ‘Obama’s grandpa’ does (no I don’t know what that’s about either. And I couldn’t look further than page 3, it was weirding me out too much.) But for ‘buttocks or testicles chocolate’ you’re up there at number one! But would you want the type of visitor who made that search!
    Thanks Clotilde

  • Julieta

    Spanish equivalent would be “zapatero a tus zapatos”, which means “shoe-maker to your shoes”. It’s not so charming…

  • http://www.blue-kitchen.com/ Terry B

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful old idiom. I find them fascinating. Another old idiom involving onions [American, I think, but perhaps not] is “How do you like them onions?” Usually, it means what do you think of some bad and often unexpected turn of events: “I worked on that all day and now the boss says I have to do it over. How do you like them onions?”

  • http://www.littlemisscupcake.eu Little Miss Cupcake

    This is one of my favorite expressions and one that can be used freely in front of my young kids when I lose my cool at someone who is being nosy! I love this series of “edible expressions!” If you ever are lacking, pls. get in touch….my MIL LOVES to teach me new idioms and once made me a 3 page list of them and asked for the English equivalents! I’ll be sure to throw some of yours right back at her; it’ll probably know her socks off! :)

  • http://www.merisi.blogspot.com Merisi

    Sara mentioned the polite Italian version, “Farsi i cavoli propri.”
    There’s another one, calling for “non rompere my onions,” don’t break my, well, onions. ;-)

Get the newsletter

Receive a free monthly email with a digest of recent entries, plus exclusive inspiration and special announcements. You can also choose to be notified of every new post.