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Lines from Rounders (1998):

Joey Knish : [to Mike, gently grabs his arm and tries to find an empty seat at another table] come here, you don't want to "butt onions" with these guys because they can chew you up, and take your whole bankroll. (clip)

What does "butt onions" mean? Apparently "butt" is the verb here. How do you butt onions? Is it gambling slang?

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Butting heads is a common idiom for clashing or arguing with someone. It comes from animal behavior such as goats or bulls challenging each other by repeatedly banging their heads together. Another idiom with a similar origin is "locking horns" with someone.

"Onions" is a less common euphemism for testicles, similar to "balls" or "cojones." Having balls or showing balls is often used to mean showing boldness or fearlessness in the face of danger. "You've got a lot of balls to wear that hat in this neighborhood!"

In this context, "onions" is standing in for "balls", so to butt onions with someone means to show great, possibly foolish courage by challenging a strong opponent. Joey is advising against taking on much better players.

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I have never heard it used, but I assume it is gambling slang. If I had to guess what it meant, it might be similar to ‘butt up against’, meaning — in a relational rather than physical context — to come uncomfortably close to someone else when you’re both working to opposite ends.

It may also just be gambling slang for playing with someone. However, because slang is made-up and its meaning is created communally, and it’s used to show that you’re a part of a community, phrases in slang often take meaning from their similarity in words/sound to other phrases.

So it’s possible the meaning of ‘butt onions’ has an element of ‘working to opposite ends’ in there too, from ‘butt up against’. We can see an element of that in the text, too — Joey is telling Mike that they’ll take all of his money, that they’re working against him and that they’re much better than him.

Hope that helps!

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    I have heard "onion" used to refer to buttocks. Maybe that plays a part there. Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 4:55

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