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This anime clip I found on Facebook has the following caption: “Pretending to lose 2 rounds to sell extremely strong onions for opponents”. I’m assuming the “sell extremely strong onions” part is a literal translation of some Asian idiom that means something along the lines of the English “sandbagging”. I’m assuming it’s Japanese in origin, but could be Chinese, Korean, etc.

I know this is a slightly odd question for this stack exchange, but I don’t have the “untranslated” version so I don’t know the origin to ask in the proper Asian language exchange, just that someone who is learning English didn’t know what a better English translation would be for this phrase.

I myself am curious where this idiom is from and what it means, and what the closest natural English translation/idiom would be. Googling the phrase isn’t helpful, and I can only take a guess at the origin.

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  • Pretending to loose 2 round is ungrammatical. At the very least, it should be rounds (plural). But even with that correction, the sentence as a whole makes no sense. Since the entire sentence is meaningless (and I'll note that the phrase in the title is not the same as the phrase in the body of the question—is it to opponent or for opponents?), I have no way of knowing what the single part is supposed to mean either. Aug 17, 2020 at 0:27
  • The caption sounds very much like a cryptic crossword clue. Aug 17, 2020 at 5:58
  • Clue 1: The Facebook site seems to be Vietnamese based on some random Vietnamese phrases in it. Clue 2: Google Translate gives bán hành cực mạnh as a translation of the phrase. Clue 3: bán hành doesn't seem very idiomatic, but bán hàng does. Unfortunately I don't know nearly enough Vietnamese to give a definitive answer. Aug 17, 2020 at 12:37

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From my perspective, I guess this is a rough English translation of a common Vietnamese phrase. It's: "bán hành". We, Vietnamese, often use this phrase when describe a person (or team) that is beating his (or their) opponent in a hard way. I guess the word "extremely" had been added to that phrase to double the level of attack that person (or team) is (are) causing to his (or their) opponent. Since I can't take a look at that anime clip due to an unexpected error, I'm not sure this is correct or not but I hope this will help you a little bit. P/s: Sorry for bad English. Have a nice day.

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  • I would like to know the origin of the idiom, if you know it :) Aug 20, 2020 at 4:55
  • Actually, it's not an idiom. Basically, it's just a common phrase that being used mostly by Vietnamese teens. The word "Onion" according to them has two meanings, other than a kind of vegetable, it pops up randomly in their mind as a term used in social life for hitting and beating. Sorry for the late feedback :)
    – Anonymous
    Aug 27, 2020 at 15:46
  • That sounds like an idiom to me, or at least slang :). But that is the question, why does onion have a different meaning? Is it because it sounds like another word, or maybe there is a story involving onions that made the term popular, or maybe something else? Perhaps it is a homophone, and "Onion" is not the proper English translation... Aug 27, 2020 at 16:28
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Let us deal generously with the feeling of the quotation rather than with the grammatical quibbles and solecisms.

I then get the sense that the quote is about “a sprat to catch a mackerel”, or a “loss leader”. It is about offering a small loss in the hope of a greater gain, although the metaphorical advantages of selling very strong onions for or to anyone are not clear to me!

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  • Figuring out the context wasn't hard. But I wanted to know if there was any nuance the original phrase added to the context. So I want to know where the phase comes from, and why it is used. Also, that's a top their word budget you got there! I can't even afford "solecisms". Had to look that one up. Sep 2, 2020 at 5:33
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"Sell onions to..." is not an English idiom or proverb, so it would seem it is a literal translation of a Japanese saying.

In the context, it would seem that the meaning of "to sell onions" is to deliver a hard-hitting blow. The meme suggests that a fighter has deliberately lost two rounds of a battle so that they can surprise their enemy in the third round. The most obvious quality of onions is that they make people 'cry', so perhaps there is the suggestion that the surprise attack in the third round will have this effect. It may be that the original idiom is just "strong onions", and perhaps "extremely" has been added because of the added impact of holding back the strike to make it a surprise?

There are loads of English synonyms for a "surprise attack". The only comparable idiom I can think of is "how do you like them apples", which is a taunt after delivering an attack or hurtful message. It apparently has its origins in WWI, as anti-tank grenades were called "toffee apples" as they looked like an apple on a stick. True, this isn't an interchangeable phrase, and the only comparison is the use of an item of food to represent an attack, but it is possible that the Japanese idiom has been modified for the context, and it might be possible to do something similar with this English idiom.

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