In Zambia, an opposition politican has been charged with defamation for comparing the president to a potato. Speaking on the radio earlier this week, Frank Bwalya described president as ‘chumbu mushololwa’, an expression in the Bemba language which, according to the BBC website, refers to ‘a sweet potato that breaks when it is bent and is used to describe someone who does not listen to advice’. It found guilty, Mr Bwalya faces a prison sentence of up to five years.
Personally, I think I’d find it more insulting to be compared to a kohlrabi – not the world’s loveliest vegetable, even if it’s delicious. (A friend and I were wondering how many years you would get for that – perhaps even execution?)
This is not the first time that Zambia has seen controversy over vegetable-based insults. In 2002 the editor of an independent newspaper, Fred M’membe, was arrested for calling the president a ‘cabbage’: a slight also recognised in the English language (as is the more general ‘vegetable’).
In Chinese, it’s common to insult someone by calling them a ‘stupid melon’ (傻瓜 sha gua), and those seen as sell-outs to their ethnic heritage may be called ‘bananas’ – because a banana is ‘yellow on the outside, white on the inside’. In Communist societies in Europe, much worse was to be labelled a ‘radish’, because radishes are ‘red on the outside and white on the inside’, and therefore potentially counter-revolutionary. And a black person may be offended to be called a ‘coconut’ – ‘black on the outside, white on the inside’.
It would be interesting to hear about fruit and vegetable insults in other cultures and languages, if anyone knows any! And what would be the worst vegetable or fruit to be called?