English Language & UsageAre there any insulting vegetable names?
[+36] [10] Armen Ծիրունյան
[2012-12-12 13:51:56]
[ single-word-requests offensive-language figures-of-speech insults ]

A vegetarian friend of mine posted a status on facebook:

You are what you eat. That's why I don't eat cows, chickens or pigs.

My main point was that being (called) "a vegetable"(=brain-dead) is no better than being (called) "a cow"(=fat), "a pig", or "a chicken"(=a coward). A counterargument was the following:

No actual vegetable is used as an insult like "You're a carrot/lettuce/potato/etc" in the same way most animals are "You're a cow/chicken/pig".

Is this true? Are there really no vegetable(or fruit, for that matter) names that have second insulting meanings?

Hope the question is on-topic.

(7) It’s not really a vegetable, per se, but calling someone a fruit or a nut is seldom complimentary. :) And those are certainly from the plant kingdom, not the animal kingdom. That said, I don’t think there is anything from the fungus kingdom which could be construed to be complimentary: mold, toadstool, &c. - tchrist
@tchrist: a fruit won't do exactly, but any particular fruit would do - Armen Ծիրունյան
(3) Then how about a bad apple, or having sour grapes? - tchrist
@tchrist: Hmm, interesting. Although as you can see the "bad" or "sour" part will be an easy vulnerability for dismissing my argument :) - Armen Ծիրունյան
@tchrist: Or just 'lemon'. Anyway, insults are usually against an animate person and plant things tend not to be so animated. - Mitch
Calling someone who eats twigs a twig will probably not enamour them of you. - tchrist
@tchrist: Twiggy was quite liked. - Mitch
Banana can be used as an insult. - Mr. Shiny and New 安宇
(6) The French actually use mon petit chou as a term of endearment, which rings quite odd if translated literally into my little cabbage. - tchrist
(12) Cabbage, used for severely brain-damaged people, is definitely insulting when used for anybody else. - Roaring Fish
(12) Is couch-potato insulting? - Roaring Fish
A vegetable is a bad enough state for one to be in. Depending on context, I think plenty of vegetable (name)s can be used pejoratively. As perhaps, fruits to a lesser extent. - Kris
tchrist: "Mon petit chou" can also be translated as "my little creampuff." - gmcgath
(1) this video shows the use of "Mr. Potato Head" as an insult @2:50 - Dan
(8) I was once told I was the human equivalent of celery, no taste to speak of and no nutritional content. - Chad
vegetable lasagne - Peter Eisentraut
turnip is quite a common one I believe. - rickyduck
(2) Mushroom however isn't. A mushroom walks into a bar, asks for a beer. The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve your type here". The mushroom replies, "Why not? I'm a fungi!" - rickyduck
I have a colleague who insists on calling me a potato when things go wrong. As in, "You're such a potato!" - John McCollum
(2) Wait, so your friend eats other human beings? - Penguin_Knight
(5) I'm not a vegetarian because I like animals, I'm a vegetarian because I hate vegetables. - bmike
@tchrist: cabbage as a strange endearment? Pshaw, that's nothing. My mother's favorite endearment for my sister & me is bogárkám "my little bug". (In Hungarian, in case you can't tell from my profile.) - Marthaª
@Marthaª: I had a Kazakh friend who used to slather his baby granddaughter with endearments like "O my baby camel!" and "O my (little) fly!" - LarsH
(2) @ArmenԾիրունյան: you could counter-argue that just as vegetable insults are uncommon, so are vegetable compliments. It's not that vegetables are more highly esteemed (no pun intended) than animals; it's just that they're inanimate, and so they don't invite comparison with people so easily. Your side of the argument would be supported if there are more compliments using names of animals than of vegetables. - LarsH
[+38] [2012-12-12 14:30:39] Chris [ACCEPTED]
  • It went pear-shaped — started good but went bad
  • Spud-head — ugly and stupid
  • Nose like a cucumber — disfigured/warty/bumpy nose
  • Stomach/arse like a sack of potatoes — huge arse
  • Coconut head — stupid
  • Strawberry nose — similar to cucumber nose but red
  • Melon head — big head
  • Pea-brain — dumb

As can be seen from the list, veggies and fruit are usually used to describe a body part, which makes sense as these objects rarely have personality assigned, because they're inanimate.

(2) While certainly descriptive, these examples do not really fit the OP's formula for the "you are what you eat" insult. "I am a strawberry" is not really insulting. - coleopterist
(5) "I'm sure you love having a pea-brain and a melon head, with a nose like a cucumber!" - Rob
(1) I explained as much, that the vegies and fruit won't fit the formula. Personally I wouldn't take OP friend's statement as an insult, in the first place. If it actually was meant in that shallow way, all the more reason not to be insulted. If you must respond, why not come back with something more clever than friend's formula. Copying the formula is a subtle compliment. I'd come back with "we can't all live off grass and smoke dope and hug trees." - Chris
@coleopterist: As a redhead, I can assure you that "strawberry" can be used quite insultingly. - Jonas
@Chris: Perhaps that's another one you should add! Loosely speaking, "the herb" is a "vegetable", and as Chris says in Family Guy, To put it simply, Mom and Dad, there's a reason that they call it "dope." (sighs) - FumbleFingers
[+32] [2012-12-12 14:08:19] Jez

Calling someone bananas means that they're crazy.

Also (although it's not aimed at a human), a car which is of bad quality is often called a lemon.

(5) 'Lemon' was frequently used in relation to humans in Ireland and the UK, meaning one who is stupid. - Alan B
(1) In Germany we call someone 'Pflaume' (translated: plum) to say he's dumb in a droll way. - Janes Abou Chleih
Actually, lemon can be used to describe anything that is faulty. - James K
When I was in high school 'lemon' was used (usually directed at girls) to mean 'frigid'. - DisgruntledGoat
@DisgruntledGoat, contradictory to that, when I was in school, 'lemon' meant lesbian - rickyduck
[+18] [2012-12-12 16:14:11] Useless

In UK English:

  • Cabbage is used as a (tasteless and insensitive) slang term for someone in a persistent vegetative state, so that would definitely be an insult

  • plum and turnip are both used as mild disparagements

[+15] [2012-12-12 14:37:11] coleopterist

You are what you eat. That's why I don't eat nuts. I don't much care for Swedes either and Kiwis are there and thereabouts. I consume ugli fruit only in the dark and cumquats are best left unmentioned. Last and least, there's the humble pigface.

Under a different moniker, I might have also derided the wonderful betel nut.

(1) Shouldn't that be spelt swedes and kiwis rather than Swedes and Kiwis? - gerrit
(1) @gerrit True. But the implication is that "I" mean the homonymous demonyms ("I am what I eat"). I'm just exercising a little licence. - coleopterist
(2) "Shut up, you cumquat" is now my Insult of the Day. - Marcus_33
Isn't it spelled kumquat? (NGrams seems to bear me out.) - Marthaª
(1) @Marthaª “More commonly spelt” perhaps. The OED says that cumquat is the former spelling of kumquat, mostly from the 19th century, where (well, when) cumquot and even kum-kat also make an appearance. Meanwhile, durin the 17th century, cumquit was also encountered. - tchrist
I always assumed that the word "kiwi" as slang for New Zealanders came from the bird and not the fruit. Well, as it's also the name of a fruit, maybe that's irrelevant. - Jay
[+7] [2012-12-12 14:09:00] Colin Fine

It's not often used as an epithet, but saying somebody is like a cabbage is (or, particularly, that a group, team, committee or cabinet is like a row of cabbages) is certainly known.

(1) Hm, never heard that one myself. - tchrist
[+5] [2012-12-12 17:13:12] Zoot

Eggplant has been used as a ethnic slur towards people with African heritage.

Actually, I believe the slur "shyster" is generally reserved for Jewish attorneys. I believe the proper slur for someone like myself would be "eggplant".

—Robert Clayton Dean (portrayed by Will Smith), Enemy of the State

[+5] [2012-12-12 21:15:52] Deditos

A gooseberry is an additional person who is neither necessary nor wanted in a given situation, in particular a third person with two others who are engaged romantically (or would like to be).

Never heard of such a thing in my whole life! - tchrist
It's fairly common in the UK. - Urbycoz
[+4] [2012-12-12 15:08:54] Jay

To call something "peanuts" means it is insufficient. Like, "We can pay you $40,000." "What?! That's peanuts!" I've never heard a person called "peanuts" in this sense though, just a monetary amount or something else offerred as having value.

"He's a few fries short of a Happy Meal" means he is stupid. But it's not really the comparison to a potato that labels him as stupid, but rather the insufficient quantity of potatos.

Saying someone is "wooden" means he fails to show normal human emotions.

Others have mentioned bananas and couch potatos. Those are probably the best examples.

While this is an amusing exercise, I'm not sure what the point is. As an argument for vegetarianism, I could only say, So what? If plants are more "respectable" than animals, wouldn't that be a reason to see animals as more "disposable"?

Like a vegetarian friend of mine once said, "Oh, wait, you don't understand. I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals. I'm a vegetarian because I hate plants."

There's always "peanut gallery". - Shauna
[+4] [2012-12-12 21:05:57] LarsH
  • full of beans — spouting nonsense, silly
  • string bean — a tall, skinny person
  • couch potato — a lazy person

I would love to get some native speakers of other languages on here to contribute vegetable insults from their mother tongues... even though it's not pertinent to English (but possibly is relevant to your FB argument).

I share your curiosity about other expressions and idioms. Input from other languages may not be pertinent to English (and thus maybe not a good answer to the question), but someone could certainly leave a comment here. - J.R.
(1) In Italian, I've heard people use expressions which correspond more or less to "as soft as a fig/persimmon" (molle come un fico/un caco) - Paola
[+3] [2012-12-12 20:28:47] Droid

Although not a vegetable (it's a grain) calling someone corny is a mild insult meaning they tell bad jokes (also being called cheesy which is a dairy product).

Another insulting fruit to add to the list is calling somebody a prune.