General English


  • noun a vegetable crop (Allium cepa), grown either for cooking or for eating in salads. The ripe onion consists of the edible swollen leaf bases surrounded by scale leaves. It is harvested when the growing tops have fallen over. It is the dormant bulbs which are harvested and eaten.


  • A white pungent bulb from a plant, Allium cepa, originating in Asia but now grown all over the world. It is the most important culinary vegetable and comes in many varieties. Scallions and spring onions are immature forms of onion harvested before the bulb has swollen. Varieties include globe, Spanish, Italian red, white, button, silverskin and spring onion.


  • noun a strong-smelling vegetable with a round white bulb

Origin & History of “onion”

The usual Old English word for ‘onion’ was cīpe (a borrowing from Latin cēpa, source also of English chives and chipolata), but it also had ynne. this came from Latin ūniō, a word of uncertain origin but possibly identical with ūniō (a derivative of ūnus ‘one’) which denoted a ‘single large pearl’ (according to Julius Moderatus Columella, ūniō was a farmer’s term, and one can well imagine a proud onion-grower comparing his products with pearls). An alternative explanation, also based on a derivation from ūnus, is that the word is an allusion to the ‘unity’ formed by the layers of the onion. Ynne had died out by the middle English period, and onion represents a reacquisition of the word via Anglo-Norman union.