The subreddit's name – /r/NotTheOnion – was derived from the title of a satirical news outlet, The Onion. The intention was (and remains) to showcase real-life stories which nonetheless have the outward appearance of being satirical in nature.
"Oniony," therefore, essentially means "appears to be satire," but satire itself is an often-misunderstood concept.
Well-executed satire is presented as being straight-faced, serious, almost deadpan descriptions of genuine events. Unlike parody, it could be easily misinterpreted as truth by people who lack enough insight or experience to recognize the underlying absurdity. (See "Poe's Law" for more on this phenomenon.) As such, absurdity on its own is not enough to create satire; there needs to have been a conscious attempt at highlighting or making commentary on preexisting absurdity, usually by way of offering fictional analogues.
Suppose that a given politician – a real one – drafted half-baked legislation to block shipments of allegedly tainted broccoli, but was known to have overlooked sanitation issues in the dairy industry. A satire-writer might spin that premise into an article with the title "Lawmaker Refuses Vegetables, Demands Ice Cream For Dinner." Said article would likely include made-up details that left readers envisioning a petulant child sitting at a table, despite that setting having never been directly described. The piece might close with a quotation about the injustice of an early bedtime, just to drive the tacit point home.
In short, satire is not merely irony or absurdity; it's a method of calling attention to those things. Following from that, an "oniony" article is one which has every appearance of being satirical, but which reports on real events.
Done to Death
The biggest complaint and removal reason we have on nottheonion is oniony. Many people think oniony simply means funny or sounds like satire. While the latter is closer, it really needs to be outrageous enough that at first glance you can't tell if it's fake news or not. A lot of times we wish something was fake news, but sadly it's just become the norm.
Anything that happens a lot or is commonplace/everyday.
Almost anything done by a total total buffoon/lunatic/showman like Trump Alex Jones, Kanye West or any complete-backwards blowhards or provocateurs like Bill O'Reilly or Al Sharpton. We simply have to raise the bar to prevent /r/nottheonion from becoming a /r/politics and /r/PoliticalHumor lovechild.
This also includes most dictators, politicians & religious figures saying or doing something stupid or nonsensical.
"Person who was against [thing] gets caught doing [that thing]." It's done, it's common, it's a dead horse, it's a trope. Please leave.
Similarly, "Firetruck/firehouse catches fire" or "police car gets stolen" or any similar "ironic" thing. Even if there's strong irony, it's still not "NO WAY MUST BE SATIRE" if it happens all the time. Probably would work best in /r/StupidCriminals.
"Person/kid found [someplace benign like their under their bed] after a huge search party" - actually very common. In a case of potential foul play, minutes or seconds count and it's important to use all available resources as soon as possible.
Just-punny headlines. If the article itself doesn't have any ironic/satirical elements itself, a clever headline is almost never enough to save it.
Also just funny words (Uranus, penis, etc.) or names (a Vietnamese chap named Long Dong) - it's funny, but it's just a funny name/word, usually refer to /r/funny_news, /r/offbeat or /r/im14andthisisfunny
"Stupid" stuff better off in /r/StupidCriminals, /r/NewsOfTheStupid, or /r/FloridaMan. They're painfully not unbelievable anymore. Applies to "caught because they left something somewhere" or "couldn't carjack b/c couldn't drive stick" or "called the cops due to drug deal gone wrong" or "called for ransom on own phone"... Ditto "[act of violence] started with fight over [something stupid like food]" - many of the same story each week, so refer to /r/StupidCriminals, /r/Offbeat, /r/NewsOfTheStupid, /r/NewsOfTheWeird, /r/FloridaMan or geo equiv, /r/ANormalDayInAmerica, /r/GunsAreCool if ordinary dumbass-"accidental"-shooting one, etc.
People over reacting to news or protesting something dumb. We get it, people who don't like what you like are morons.
Coincidental names: Adolf Hitler was arrested for jaywalking or Bruce Wayne got a speeding ticket. It's just coincidental names, and not the guy everyone is thinking of.
Cops breaking the law or being violent.
Gender reveal parties cause minor destruction
Burning down your house to get rid of a pest
Some jurisdiction finally got around to passing a law that they should have passed over 200 years ago
Funny/strange advertising campaigns - Wendy's and Burger King put money into their PR department, we get it
The internet messes with a survey - Gushin' Grannies and Boaty McBoatface got there first, it's been done.
Scientists discover some weird animal behavior aka "damn nature, you crazy"
some asshole does something to cause a plane's flight path to be diverted.
Gun giveaway, raffle, or as a door prize, etc. Esp. in the US, this is pretty common. Yes, even as a fundraiser following a mass shooting.
Anything suggested following yesterday's (it's possible that "yesterday" is off by a day or two every now and then. Please just wait another day before complaining) mass gun violence except for actually banning guns. You wouldn't believe the ridiculous shit they come up with to try to keep their guns. We can't satirize this, it's just too bananas.
People calling the cops for stupid reasons, especially for drug deals gone bad, dummies/sex dolls that they think are dead bodies, or weird objects they think are bombs.
Driving in the HOV lane with a dummy or sex doll
An animal or odd object correctly picking an election or sports outcome, or doing well on stock trading. Yes, believe it or not, this happens all the time.
Something dumb is sold for a very high price.
Lawyers making ridiculous arguments in court.
Generic NFT or bitcoin articles
people fighting over something stupid, especially if a gun is involved. Welcome to Earth, this happens all the time everywhere.
stupid trends, especially from tiktok
someone got caught having sex with an animal or weird object, having sex in public, jerking it where they shouldn't be, etc
Hospital bills that are between like $100 and a billion dollars. The healthcare system is run by price gouging assholes, we know. Really low hospital bills and ones over a billion dollars are needed to meet the bar for actual satire.
winning the lottery
winter weather causes some winter-related event to be cancelled
cargo trucks crash on a road and spill all their contents
smugglers smuggling something in innocuous items (this is how freaking smuggling works, stop posting these jfc)
kids buying a bunch of stuff online with their parents' credit card
fertility clinic mixup, fertility doctor using own sperm, DNA test causes problems
serving fried chicken, watermelon, or otherwise being really tone deaf during Black History Month
group or company updating words or removing words from their products or internal documentation to keep up with changing language
Person awarded [X] of the Year (e.g. Teacher of the Year, Mother of the Year) gets busted doing something bad
Something happens at an Indian wedding that Americans think is funny or wacky (typically because of arranged marriages and women having fewer rights)
An organization updating their mascot, documentation, or slogan to better adhere to contemporary sensibilities (e.g. master/slave in computing, Washington Redskins, etc)