I was trying to remember who that Mancunian tax-fiddler was, the one who wrote about oranges and onions. Ah, yes, this one:
Anthony Burgess knew his onions. From Inside Mr. Enderby, with thanks to former NER writer John Derbyshire:
His breath smelt startlingly of (startling because few hosts serve, owing to the known redolence of onions, onions) onions.
Derbyshire gushes – and I don’t think he is being tongue-in-cheek:
Has anyone ever improved on that? Gone for the quadruple, I mean, without violating the rules of grammar? Yes, I know about those made-up sentences like: "Peter, while Tom had had 'had,' had had 'had had'; 'had had' had won the English teacher's approval." I'm thinking of something more Burgessian, something in the onions line, without quotes.
You’ve been had had had. Burgess, with his unwieldy sentence and his string of onions, is not clever, but merely clever-clever. In fact, I would go as far as to say:
Burgess is, when he thinks he is clever, clever-clever. Clever-clever is not the same as clever, and there is no merit in meretricious.There you go, Mr Burgess – that’s five clevers to your three onions. You want more onions? Sorry, that’s shallot.