Feb. 25, 2011 -- As natural bodily functions go, breaking wind in public ranks up there as a displeasing, although hardly punishable, offense.
Well, that's now debatable in the southeast African nation of Malawi, where legislators reportedly want to include public farting among a set of misdemeanor crimes that would be enforced -- and punished -- in a new local court.
The others? Insulting the modesty of a woman, challenging to fight a duel and pretending to be a fortune teller, according to the British Daily Mail.
But in case one assumes that the Malawian government would monopolize outlandish laws aimed at curbing objectionable behavior, consider these seven other ordinances, some marginally justifiable, some clearly meant for days gone by and some just downright hard to fathom, let alone enforce.
It's hard to walk and chew gum when it's illegal. Singapore has banned the sale and import of chewing gum since 1992, unless it has some therapeutic value. Of course, that hasn't stopped some people from smuggling it in or chewing it out of sight. But the ban has apparently achieved the stated goal of eliminating gum-related vandalism and the associated maintenance costs.
Take that, Manhattan clam chowder! New Englanders take their clam chowder so seriously that Maine introduced legislation in 1939 that would make it illegal to add tomatoes. Pity the poor tomato-based variation named for New York City's most famous borough: The late cookbook writer and chef James Beard, according to the What's Cooking in America website, labeled it "that rather horrendous soup called Manhattan clam chowder. [It] resembles a vegetable soup that accidentally had some clams dumped into it."
Forgive us our burps and sneezes. Although there's no sign of such a law in its president-day online statutes, Nebraska is said to have an old ordinance on the books somewhere that makes it illegal to burp and sneeze in some churches. Next!
Why it's not called the Vegetable-Oil Blend State. Wisconsin wears its Dairy State badge proudly, so much so that, according to state law, "the serving of colored oleomargarine or margarine at a public eating place as a substitute for table butter is prohibited unless it is ordered by the customer." Guess they'll know when to believe it's not butter.
Enforcing Might Create a Stink
Prepare to show to your First Amendment card. It's still apparently illegal to mispronounce "Ar-KAN-SASS" in the state of Arkansas. There, we did it, even if across state lines. Either way, if a media company can't uphold the "freedom of speech" clause, then who can?
But no freedom of expression? Some Floridians seem to be under the impression that it's illegal to imitate animals in Miami. Kudos to anyone who can explain where that one originates.
Don't try this at home. The state that took "Soul Train" and "American Bandstand" to new heights apparently has a 1925 law that makes it illegal to wiggle while dancing. Sounds painful but not to worry, because no "wiggle" pops up in an online word search of California law. Although Don Cornelius and Dick Clarke would have probably ignored it anyway, to the great satisfaction of wiggling dancers and their fans from Eureka to San Ysidro.
Perhaps some of the older laws made sense in their time. But even then, as Malawians might soon discover at the point of enforcement, some things just aren't worth the stink.