Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access July 8, 2021

Pushing against the boundaries: Entertaining impoliteness and taboo discourse in the Egyptian TV show Abla Fahita

Wesam M. A. Ibrahim
From the journal Open Linguistics

Abstract

Impoliteness can be defined as the use of “communicative strategies” which are “designed to attack face, and thereby cause social conflict and disharmony” (Culpeper et al. 2003, 1564). The present study applies Jonathan Culpeper’s (2011a) model of “impoliteness” supplemented by the notions of jocular mockery, jocular abuse, and recipients’ responses (Bousfield 2008, 2010, Haugh and Bousfield 2012) to the Egyptian TV show Abla Fahita. Abla Fahita (Egyptian Arabic: أبلة فاهيتا‎ [ʾabla fāhīta]) is a puppet character that has regularly appeared on Egyptian television since 2011. The show is hugely popular and has been phenomenally successful, being watched on average by millions, according to the Egyptian Centre for Research on Public Opinion. It should be noted, however, that, due to the conservative nature of Egyptian culture, Abla Fahita and other similar TV shows are considered to violate Egyptian politeness standards radically. Hence, such shows have been condemned as degrading and of low moral standards and have been accused of causing a deterioration in the standards of Egyptian public taste. Despite all denunciations, Abla Fahita still enjoys a huge audience and dominates broadcast ratings. Part of the show’s popularity can be ascribed to its characteristic impoliteness, particularly Abla Fahita’s off-beat expressions in mocking her guests and her use of sexual innuendo, which is seen as entertaining by many viewers. The study, which reveals that Abla Fahita employs what can be called a humorous-impoliteness formula to entertain viewers, is an attempt to apply contemporary Impoliteness Theory across cultures, and to Colloquial Egyptian Arabic in particular.

1 Introduction

The concept of politeness first attracted the academic concern of linguists in the 1970s (cf. Brown and Levinson 1978, 1987, Leech 1983). Politeness can be described as the discursive behaviours that participants use in order to avoid conflict and maintain harmonious relations (Holmes et al. 2012). It is considered the normative unmarked form of appropriate behaviour, i.e. “default behaviour” (Terkourafi 2002, 197), which complies with expectations and social norms and therefore passes unnoticed (see Culpeper 2011a, 2011b, Haugh 2013). Deviations from social norms may be perceived as violations of the appropriate behaviour. Such deviations almost always involve impoliteness (Culpeper 2011a). However, “there is no solid agreement […] as to what ‘impoliteness’ actually is” (Locher and Bousfield 2008, 3). Impoliteness is a term that is “struggled over at present, has been struggled over in the past and will, in all probability, continue to be struggled over in the future” (Watts 2003, 9). Despite this difficulty, impoliteness can be broadly defined as the “use of strategies that are designed to [cause] social disruption” instead of maintaining social harmony (Culpeper 1996, 350); “communicative strategies designed to attack face” (Culpeper et al. 2003, 1545); “behaviour that is face-aggravating in a particular context” (Locher and Bousfield 2008, 3); and the “rudeness, aggressive language, the causing of offence” or linguistic behaviour which may be termed as “socially negative” (Bousfield 2010, 101).

When academic interest moved on from just studying politeness to include impolite discourse, the earlier studies (e.g. Culpeper 1996, Lachenicht 1980) were closely modelled on Brown and Levinson’s (1978, 1987) classic work on politeness. Then, the notion of impoliteness was further explored in the works of Jonathan Culpeper (1996, 2003, 2005, 2011a, 2011b, 2013), Derek Bousfield (2008, 2010), and Michael Haugh (2010). Various discourse types have been investigated in order to calculate the usage and frequency of impolite or offensive language in them, such as army training discourse (Culpeper 1996), family discourse (Vuchinich 1990), adolescent discourse (Goodwin and Goodwin 1990), doctor–patient discourse (Mehan 1990), everyday conversation (Beebe 1995), radio talk shows (Hutchby 1996), fictional texts (Culpeper 1998), political discussions and courtroom interactions (Archer 2011a, 2011b, Harris 2011, Penman 1990, Tracy 2011), emergency calls (Tracy and Tracy 1998), customer settings and service encounters (Archer and Jagodziński 2015), and so on.

Impoliteness, it seems, is “ubiquitous” (Locher and Bousfield 2008). It can be sophisticated, creative, subtle, and “entertaining” (e.g. Bousfield 2008, 2010, Culpeper 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2011a, 2011b, Culpeper et al. 2003). Culpeper (2005, 2011a, 2011b) and Lorenzo-Dus (2009) note that, in genres involving representation, impolite discourse can often have an “entertainment” or “aesthetic” value. Culpeper (2011a, 234–9) attempts to explore the reasons behind the pleasure we experience when viewing impoliteness as entertainment and posits five sources of such pleasure:

  1. (1)

    Emotional pleasure:We experience an inherent emotional enjoyment when viewing conflict.

  2. (2)

    Aesthetic pleasure:This type of pleasure is derived from “socially negative uses of verbal creativity” (Culpeper 2005, 46), which can be a very effective (and amusing) way of conveying face-attack (Culpeper 2011a, 239).

  3. (3)

    Voyeuristic pleasure:This kind of pleasure can be gained through the observation of others in conflictive situations.

  4. (4)

    The pleasure of being superior: We gain pleasant feelings of superiority when we compare ourselves favourably to others.

  5. (5)

    The pleasure of feeling secure: Entertainment-through-security can be gained from our appreciation of what we have when compared to the grave distress of others.

In other words, impoliteness can be used as a strategic vehicle for entertainment and humorous purposes since people are likely to laugh at the expense of others. This may account for the fact that some film and media productions market “comedies” which contain offensive or impolite language. The entertainment industry has a huge investment in making us laugh and considers “comedy” as a “giant” within television entertainment, particularly “comedies” which contain offensive language (Zillmann and Bryant 1991, 261). All this suggests that impoliteness can somehow be entertaining and humorous. This overlap between humour and impolite discourse has not been missed by television producers who have developed a large number of media productions using this “humorous-impoliteness” formula in the name of “entertainment.” Surprisingly, media communication researchers have acknowledged that the use of entertaining impoliteness, which has been described by Culpeper (2011a, 233) as “exploitative,” is a “ubiquitous phenomenon” (Zillmann and Bryant 1994, 437). They have defined it as any activity designed to delight and, to a smaller degree, enlighten audiences through the exhibition of the fortune or misfortunes of others, but also through the display of special skills (Zillmann and Bryant 1994, 438). This implies that (in certain contexts) being entertained can be encapsulated by being “delighted” at the misfortunes of others which endorses Culpeper’s (2011a) argument that impoliteness, which is designed for entertainment purposes, functions to amuse others, particularly those who are not targets of the impoliteness.

In Egypt, television producers have followed this trend and exploited the humorous-impoliteness formula through initiating shows such as Saturday Night Live in Arabic and Abla Fahita: Live from the Duplex which is the focus of this study. Abla Fahita, a puppet without strings, rose to fame in 2011 after airing her show “El-Duplex” on the privately-owned Egyptian entertainment channel CBC. “The satirical show comments on societal problems in an ironic way; Abla Fahita’s quick wit and humorous lines attracted large audiences almost instantly” (egyptindependent.com). The show has become a phenomenon, being watched by an average of 8 million Egyptians per episode, according to the Egyptian Centre for Research on Public Opinion. In the show, Abla Fahita is treated by her celebrity guests and the audience in the Duplex as if she were a real woman, supposedly the single mother of two children, a girl “Karo (aka Karkoura)” and a boy “Boudi,” and the founder of the (fictional) Association for Single Women, Widows and Divorcees. In character, she represents an acid-tongued, middle-aged, Egyptian widow, and comes across as a frivolous cougar-type who likes handsome men. With her snide comments, sexual innuendoes, and distinctive appearance (i.e. trademark hair-rollers, thick eyeliner, and glamorous outfits – see Figure 1), Abla Fahita has gained enormous popularity.

Figure 1 Abla Fahita at the Dublex.

Figure 1

Abla Fahita at the Dublex.

Controversy has continued to surround Abla Fahita’s show, particularly due to the fact that the male artist behind the puppet remains anonymous, although rumours have circled suggesting it could be Hatem al-Kashef, an actor and scriptwriter.[1] The controversy is also due to Abla Fahita’s use of sexual innuendo which is unacceptable to the dominant conservative strand of Egyptian culture. Just as with humour, entertainment is highly culture-sensitive (Culpeper and Holmes 2013, 176) and Egyptian public culture does not normally accept sexual innuendo in TV shows which would be watched by whole families. Some lawmakers pressed for the program to be taken off the air and Egypt’s judiciary allowed the satirical puppet Abla Fahita to be charged with “violating public morality.”[2] The Egyptian Supreme Media Council also banned a Vodafone commercial featuring Abla Fahita, after accusing the commercial of “playing with words to give a different meaning than the original meaning of each, which lowers general taste,” making it unsuitable for children.[3]

Abla Fahita was called into court on 26 June 2016, accused of “violating public morality” with her bawdy jokes. The case against Abla Fahita was brought by the Egyptian lawyer Samir Sabry who claimed that, despite Fahita’s popularity, her ribald humour “runs contrary to the values and ethics of Egypt.”[4] In addition, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation sent a letter to the CBC channel requesting the omission of explicit sexual references from the show, and from the episodes on YouTube. It also requested the channel to name the performer behind the famous Abla Fahita puppet in the title sequence, who thus far remains unknown to the public, so that he could be held accountable if found to be at fault.[5] Due to such controversy and lawsuits, the show was taken off Egyptian television in 2018, but was back in 2019. However, Abla Fahita is about to become a global phenomenon with her very own Netflix series, which would be released in more than 20 languages and in 190 countries.[6]

2 Literature review

Culpeper first proposed his impoliteness model, which is a reversal of Brown and Levinson’s ([1978] 1987) face-based politeness model, in 1996, and then made significant revisions to this model in 2005 and 2011a, 2011b. Culpeper suggested that face-attacks can be used creatively for the specific purpose of entertaining a third party (in talent shows, the studio, and TV audience) and considered this an additional function of impoliteness (Culpeper 2011a, 2011b, 233–5 and 249–52). He postulates that impoliteness that targets its victims via sarcasm, mimicry, or implicatures can be considered humorous by many people. He adopts the line of the “Superiority” theories of humour (e.g. Bergson 1911), which advocate that humans find pleasure at the expense or misfortune of others. He argues that in watching TV shows which exploit the mixture of impoliteness and humour for the sake of entertainment, viewers tend to gain voyeuristic pleasure from observing others in a worse state than themselves (Culpeper 2005).

In this article, I adopt Culpeper’s (2011a) model in which he replaced the term “strategy” with “trigger” and suggests two types of impoliteness triggers: conventionalised impoliteness formulae and implicational impoliteness. The first type of trigger is inspired by Terkourafi’s frame-based politeness approach (2002). Culpeper (2010, 3240–1, 2011a, 135–6) provides a list of conventionalised impoliteness formulae, based on co-occurrences of particular linguistic realisations of impoliteness and particular contexts, including insults; pointed criticisms/complaints; challenging or unpalatable questions; and/or presuppositions, condescensions, message enforcers, dismissals, silencers, threats, and negative expressives (e.g. curses, ill-wishes). The second type, implicational impoliteness, involves “an impoliteness understanding that does not match the surface form or semantics of the utterance or the symbolic meaning of the behaviour” (Culpeper 2011a, 17). Culpeper classifies implicational impoliteness into three types, each involving mismatches of some sort: (1) Convention-driven (sarcasm or mock politeness), (2) Form-driven (off-record impoliteness), and (3) Context-driven (deviation from expectations in the context).

Culpeper (2011a, 223–35) does not only suggest forms of impoliteness, but also identify its functions. He lists three instrumental functions of impoliteness: affective impoliteness (an intense emotional display directed at the target), coercive impoliteness (imposing harm on the target’s social identity or forcing compliance), and entertaining impoliteness (the exploitation of a target for entertainment purposes, such as game shows). Entertaining impoliteness is particularly interesting for the purposes of this article.

Whilst Culpeper’s (2011a) model is particularly useful as an overall view, I supplement it with Haugh and Bousfield’s (2012) notions of jocular mockery and jocular abuse as well as the notion of recipients’ responses (Bousfield 2008, Drew 1987, Everts 2003, Glenn 2003, Jefferson et al. 1987). Haugh and Bousfield (2012) get quite close to the notion of entertaining impoliteness while examining the use and interpretation of banter or mock politeness. They identify two distinct interactional practices jocular mockery and jocular abuse. Jocular mockery needs to be created within a jocular frame and can be induced by the speaker’s “overdoing” or exaggerating particular actions. Jocular abuse, on the other hand, is a specific form of insulting whereby the speaker casts the target into an undesirable category or ascribes negative characteristics to him/her, using a conventionally offensive expression within a non-serious or jocular frame. The jocular abuse is executed by using a remark that “puts someone down, or ascribes a negative characteristic to them” (Hay 2002, 20), and by picking on or debasing “a person’s physical appearance and mental ability, character, behaviour, beliefs, and/or familial and social relations” (Allan and Burridge 2006, 79).

Targets of (im)politeness are not passive but active co-constructors of (im)politeness (see Culpeper and Holmes 2013, 171). Hence, impoliteness is often reciprocated (see Culpeper 2011a, 2011b, 203–7, Culpeper and Holmes 2013, 171). Responses to jocular mockery or entertaining impoliteness will be more or less constrained by the context (Culpeper and Holmes 2013, 172). These responses may include laughter (Drew 1987, Everts 2003, Glenn 2003, Jefferson et al. 1987), explicit accord with or appreciation of the mockery, as well as (partial) repetition of the mocking remarks (Drew 1987, Jefferson et al. 1987). Generally speaking, Bousfield (2008, 195–202) suggests that responses to an offending situation may take two forms. The recipient of a situation of offending may either choose:

  1. (1)

    Not to respond.

  2. (2)

    To respond either by accepting the face-attack or countering the face-attack offensively or defensively.

In my study, there is an intensive use of jocular mockery and jocular abuse by Abla Fahita targeting both her celebrity guests and other celebrities. The very fact Abla Fahita is a puppet constructs a jocular frame within which mockery and/or abuse are considered humorous by the celebrity guest, the audience at the Duplex, and the viewers at home since the whole situation is not to be taken “too seriously.” Such jocular insults or “banter,” which constitute a form of entertaining impoliteness, create solidarity and establish or maintain “a bond of familiarity” among people (Leech 1983, 144).

The mix of humour and impoliteness creates a kind of formula that tends to be successful, attractive, and intimacy-promoting. Academic research has explored this humorous-impoliteness formula and analysed practices such as teasing (Butler 2007, Drew 1987, Everts 2003, Grainger 2004, Hay 2002, Lampert and Ervin-Tripp 2006, Mullany 2004, Schnurr and Chan 2011, Straehle 1993), jocular mockery (Haugh 2010, Haugh et al. 2011), jesting or mild banter (Grainger 2004, Haugh et al. 2011), humorous self-denigration (Holmes et al. 2012, Lampert and Ervin-Tripp 2006, Schnurr and Chan 2011), jocular abuse (Goddard 2006, Hay 2002), and so on.

A salient rationale behind my selection of Culpeper’s (2011a) model is that it has been tested by Culpeper against impoliteness events reported by undergraduates from the UK, China, Finland, Germany, and Turkey (see Culpeper 2010, 2011a). It has also been applied to the TV show The X Factor (Culpeper and Holmes 2013). In addition, it has also been applied to other languages such as German and Japanese. This article provides another application of the model to a language other than English, namely, Arabic language and more particularly, Colloquial Egyptian Arabic.

2.1 Research questions

This article attempts to answer the following research questions:

To what extent is the humorous-impoliteness formula exploited in the TV show Abla Fahita?

Do the gender and age of the celebrity guest affect Abla Fahita’s selection of particular humorous-impoliteness triggers?

To answer these questions, I investigated four interviews featuring Abla Fahita with celebrity guests (two males and two females) and extracted impoliteness events using mainly Culpeper’s (2011a) impoliteness model, supplemented by the notions of jocular mockery, jocular abuse, and recipient’s responses from other models.

3 Data and method

My data include four episodes of Abla Fahita, downloaded from YouTube and fully transcribed. These particular episodes were selected because they achieved the highest number of views on YouTube and also for their entertainment value. The guests include two male and two female celebrities: Maged Elmasry, Hassan ElShafei, Elham Shaheen, and Rania Youssef.

Maged Elmasry (born 15 October 1963) is an Egyptian singer and actor (Figure 2). His episode with Abla Fahita, dated 6 April 2016, was deleted from YouTube after receiving more than 3 million views due to its violation of morality through the excessive use of sexual innuendo. It was then discreetly re-uploaded[7] on 28 December 2016 without being labelled as the Maged Elmasry episode. The controversial 19-min interview,[8] which was dubbed as “the most daring interview ever made in the show,” was later openly re-uploaded again on YouTube on 26 August 2018, and received 205,007 views.

Figure 2 Abla Fahita with Maged Elmasry.

Figure 2

Abla Fahita with Maged Elmasry.

Hassan ElShafei[9] (born 9 October 1982) is an Egyptian musician, record producer, and media personality[10] (Figure 3). He has produced and arranged music for famous singers from all over the Arab world, including Amr Diab, Hossam Habib, Angham, Sherine, Abdel Mejid Abdallah, and Nancy Ajram. He won the Best Music Producer Award at the Middle East Music Awards in 2009 and the DG magazine’s Award for Best Music Arranger in 2007 and 2009. He has founded his own record label, Basement Records. His music helps both famous stars and talented young artists to introduce something different and new into the local market. He has also been a judge on multiple seasons of the TV programme Arab Idol, which premiered in 2011. In 2014, he was the only Arab to contribute to the international FIFA World Cup-oriented album Pepsi Beats of the Beautiful Game. He also cooperated with Abla Fahita in the hit song Mayistahlūshī [They don’t deserve it]. His episode with Abla Fahita was posted on YouTube on 14 April 2018 and received 565,795 views.

Figure 3 Abla Fahita with Hassan Elshafie.

Figure 3

Abla Fahita with Hassan Elshafie.

Elham Shaheen (born 3 January 1960) is a prominent Egyptian actress who joined the cinema industry at a young age. She has appeared in 100 Egyptian films and 60 television series and has won both Egyptian and international awards. She has been married and divorced twice. She is a controversial character particularly due to her views. She caused a controversy in 2016 when she vowed that she would marry the man who would kill the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, promising to spend an unforgettable honeymoon with him. She expressed her belief that if Baghdadi were killed, the Middle East would be at peace again.[11] She also sued, won, and got sent to prison one of the islamists during the period of Muslim Brotherhood rule after he spoke ill of her and said she was a cheap woman. Her episode[12] in the sixth season of the Abla Fahita show (Figure 4) was uploaded on YouTube on 30 December 2017 and received 1,755,885 views.

Figure 4 Abla Fahita with Elham Shaheen.

Figure 4

Abla Fahita with Elham Shaheen.

Rania Youssef (born 1 December 1973) is also a prominent Egyptian actress. Her personal life attracts curiosity in Egypt, as she has been married and divorced three times and claims to have been physically abused in one of her marriages. She is also frequently criticised for wearing revealing clothing,[13] being accused in the media of “inciting debauchery” through her style of clothing. Two Egyptian lawyers Amr Abdelsalam and Samir Sabry,[14] who are known for taking celebrities to court and claim to police public morals by regulating attire, behaviour and even jokes, filed legal cases against her for which she could face 5 years in prison if convicted of public obscenity. Her episode[15] with Abla Fahita (Figure 5), which was uploaded on YouTube on 13 January 2018, was in the sixth season and received 1,903,729 views.

Figure 5 Abla Fahita with Rania Youssef.

Figure 5

Abla Fahita with Rania Youssef.

The four episodes were transcribed and then manually analysed applying the categories of the impoliteness model and the complementary notions mentioned in the previous section. In the process of transcribing the four episodes and qualitatively analysing them, I developed six hypotheses about the show:

  1. (1)

    All celebrities tend to enter the spirit of the jocular frame and treat Abla Fahita as a real person.

  2. (2)

    Abla Fahita tends to flirt with male celebrities, who usually playfully accept these flirtations.

  3. (3)

    Abla Fahita tends to use sarcasm and sexual innuendo the most.

  4. (4)

    Abla Fahita tends to comment on the appearance of the female guests and compare herself to them.

  5. (5)

    Abla Fahita tends to criticise absent celebrities and drags the guests into commenting on those celebrities.

  6. (6)

    The celebrities’ responses to Abla Fahita’s impoliteness events range from laughter, explicit accord or appreciation of the mockery, partial repetition of the mocking remarks, asking questions, defending themselves or others, to counterattacking.

I address these hypotheses with quantitative and qualitative analyses in Section 4

4 Discussion

In this section, I report the quantitative and qualitative evidence for the hypotheses formed in the previous section. All instances of impoliteness were identified in the light of Culpeper’s (2011a) model. I noticed that all the impoliteness instances encountered in the data can also be classified as a sort of jocular mockery or jocular abuse in Bousfield’s terms. It should be noted that the show generally involves constructing a playful, non-serious, or jocular frame, which creates a “context in which the impoliteness is understood to be untrue” (Culpeper 1996, 352). Within this jocular frame, the male artist behind Abla Fahita employs jocular mockery and/or jocular abuse.

To entertain viewers, the jocular frame is largely achieved through employing a visually striking but obvious puppet, which is treated by both the celebrity guests and the audience at the Duplex as a real woman. Abla Fahita, however, is not an ordinary woman, she is rather a voluptuous, acid-tongued, sarcastic widow with two kids and a great sense of humour. The celebrity guests join in the game, while quite aware that they are talking to a man due to his voice quality (falsetto), and jokingly indulge in conversation with the performer as if they were talking to a real celebrity show hostess in order to entertain and amuse the audience. The male guests address her using either ʾablah [Miss], ʾabla fāhīta [Abla Fahita], or fuffah. The female guests, on the other hand, address her as ʾablah [Miss] or by her first name fāhīta [Fahita]. The guests willingly enter into co-constructing her “reality.” Maged Elmasry asked her 23 questions about her trip to Dubai where they had met at the Film Festival, about her late husband and whether she intended to remarry. Hassan talked about their trip to Germany when they were producing their song Mayistahlūshī [They don’t deserve it] and asked her about her relationship with her late husband, particularly in relation to raising their kids Karo and Boudy. Both Hassan and Maged treated her as a real woman flirting with them: Hassan stated that he missed her, while Maged, on the other hand, gave her a French kiss. Rania and Elham also treated Fahita as a real woman. There were many instances of comparisons being made between Abla Fahita’s supposed beauty, elegance, and stardom to that of the female guest. Elham insisted that she is more beautiful, though she admitted Fahita’s dress was elegant. She rejected Abla Fahita’s claim that she is more successful and insisted that her own name would be mentioned before Fahita’s if they co-starred in a film. Rania was more accepting of Fahita’s haughtiness and endorsed her success, popularity, elegant style, and beauty. However, Rania warned her not to flirt with her new husband and not to envy her stunning appearance and flood of work coming out. Elham tended to counterattack Fahita’s sarcasm the most, especially when referring to her celebrity friends. She explicitly brought out the similarities between herself and Abla Fahita, pointing out that both are single, strong, independent, beautiful, middle-aged women. She invited Fahita to accompany her to Dubai to visit a friend of hers who is a plastic surgeon in order to get a facial treatment. She also accused Fahita of abusing her daughter Karo and warned her that she would report this abuse to human rights associations. She also accused Fahita of instigating Elham’s family to rebel against her and insisted on continuing as the dictator in her family. Elham was the only guest who managed to dominate the floor, even more than Abla Fahita herself, contributing 58% of the speech uttered during the episode.

4.1 Quantitative analysis

The results in Table 1 show that Abla Fahita tends to speak more than all guests, with the exception of Elham Shaheen, whose episode was included in a special New Year celebration broadcast. This may have allowed her to be given extra space – more time and opportunity to speak, tell anecdotes, comment on things – compared to the other guests due to her high-status career, degree of celebrity, older age, and, potentially, strong personality. Even when Fahita brought in two members of Elham’s family, her brother and her niece, she gave Elham the opportunity to discuss things with them with very minor comments and interjections from Abla Fahita. Rania Youssef’s turns, on the other hand, are much fewer compared to Abla Fahita’s since, in part of her episode, Fahita also brought in Rania’s new husband and her daughter as guests and directed many questions to them. The numbers of turns of both Maged Elmasry and Hassan Elshafei, on the other hand, are comparable with those of Abla Fahita.

Table 1

Number of turns and words for Abla Fahita and the guests

Duration in minutes Fahita Number of turns Number of words Guest Number of turns Number of words
30.30 110 962 52% Hassan Elshafei 105 878 48%
19 117 1,272 70% Maged Elmasry 103 554 30%
60.43 446 2,927 42% Elham Shaheen 430 4,000 58%
30.58 206 1,873 62% Rania Youssef 159 1,157 38%

The most common conventionalised formulae used by Abla Fahita are unpalatable questions/presuppositions and insults directed at a third person (Table 2). Unpalatable questions were used with all guests, and these questions tended to include sexual content much more in the cases of the male guests. Personalised third-person negative references were also used with all guests where Abla Fahita spoke ill of their celebrity friends and other celebrities in general, but with the male guests this included insulting their wives.

Table 2

Frequencies of conventionalised formulae

Impoliteness events Conventionalised formulae
Insults Challenging or unpalatable questions/presuppositions Condescensions Threats Negative expressives
Personalised negative assertions Personalised negative references Personalised third-person negative reference
Hassan Elshafei 5 3 4 10 3 0 0
Maged Elmasry 1 1 7 20 2 0 2
Elham Shaheen 6 2 11 22 8 0 6
Rania Youssef 1 2 11 22 2 0 0
Total 13 8 33 74 15 0 8

The most common implicational impoliteness triggers, on the other hand, include the use of sarcasm and sexual innuendo (Table 3). Sexual innuendoes tend to be more frequently used with male guests (73 instances = 84%) while sarcasm is more frequently used with female guests (183 instances = 72%).

Table 3

Frequencies of implicational impoliteness events

Impoliteness events Implicational impoliteness
Convention-driven Form-driven Context-driven Sexual innuendoes
Sarcasm Word play Nicknames Inappropriate responses
Hassan Elshafei 32 6 51 3 19
Maged Elmasry 39 0 0 2 54
Elham Shaheen 124 3 6 0 3
Rania Youssef 59 8 14 7 11
Total 254 17 71 12 87

Examples of these impoliteness triggers are provided below.

The responses of all guests to Abla Fahita’s impoliteness included laughter, partial repetition of Fahita’s remarks, accepting the impoliteness events, and countering the attack either defensively or offensively. Maged Elmasry accepted the impoliteness events, particularly the ones with sexual content, and went as far as including 19 instances of sexual innuendo in his own responses and 12 instances of sexual innuendo in the questions he asked to Abla Fahita. Hassan Elshafei, on the other hand, repeatedly told Fahita that she was going too far whenever she used any sexual innuendo. Only twice he played along with her sexual implications: when he referred to her desire for and admiration of a Lebanese singer, his co-star on the TV programme Arab Idol, Wael Kofoury; and when he agreed to take selfies with and kiss her supposed friends who fancy him.

The impoliteness events targeted by Abla Fahita towards Elham and Rania included sarcasm and they used all kinds of responses, as shown in Table 4. However, the female guests’ responses included counter-attacking both defensively and offensively more frequently compared to the male guests.

Table 4

Classification and frequencies of recipients’ responses

Responses to Jocular Mockery Laughter Explicit accord of Mockery Partial repetition of mocking remarks Counter-attack Defence Referring to or implying exaggerated sexual content Asking questions
Hassan Elshafei 2 31 1 5 14 6 13
Maged Elmasry 1 28 10 9 2 6 25
Elham Shaheen 19 43 8 35 14 0 2
Rania Youssef 17 14 9 19 10 4 2
Total 39 116 28 68 40 16 42

4.2 Qualitative analysis

4.2.1 Conventionalised formulae

Abla Fahita’s impoliteness triggers and her comments on the guests’ responses indicate the skill and quick wit of the anonymous artist performing Fahita. Viewers are likely to find these triggers witty and humorous. The most common conventionalised formulae employed by Abla Fahita include insulting the guest and other absent celebrities and asking intrusive questions.

4.2.1.1 Insults – negative references to the guest

The personalities and habits of the guests are used as targets of abuse and mockery, including references to previously established “likes,” “hates,” “habits,” “travels,” “artistic works,” “regular activities,” “friends,” and so on. In Examples (1) and (2), Abla Fahita casts Elham Shaheen as a dictator who derives her pleasure from controlling her siblings’ lives:

(1) (fāhīta) ʾāh hiyya dāyman issit ilʾādrah manẓar ʿala ilfāḍi
[Fahita: Yes, the strong (tyrannical) lady is always an empty charade (just a big mouth)]
(2) (fāhīta) itgawwizt walla ilhām waʾfa ḥʾālak
[Fahita: Have you got married or Elham gets in your way? (a question directed to Elham’s brother)]

She presupposes Rania Yousef to have a manipulative nature, depicting her as a woman who would stop at nothing to achieve her ambition. This unpalatable presupposition is evidenced in Fahita’s question in (3):

(3) (fāhīta) dusti baʾa fi ṭarīʾik ʿala kam waḥda ʿashan tiwṣali
[Fahita: How many women have you trodden on to get to the top?]

And in her sarcastic remark whereby she cleverly employs jocular mockery to refer to Rania Yousef’s actions in pursuing her ambition in (4).

(4) (fāhīta) ʾinti maʿamaltīsh zay ilbanāt ilḥilwah illi bitibʾa ʿayza titshihir fatʾūm tiʿmil ʾiʿlān ʾaw tiṭlaʿ fi miyuzik vidyu ʾaw tikhush mis ījibt ʾaw titgawwiz muntig … ʾinti ya ḥabibti ʿamalti ilʾarbaʿa
[Fahita: You haven’t followed the path of those beautiful fame-starved girls who become models in commercials and music videos, participate in the Miss Egypt Beauty Pageant, or get married to a film producer. You have done all four things, my darling.]

In (5), Fahita asks Hassan if he helps his wife in changing nappies for their 1-year-old girl. Hassan answered affirmatively, then added that he asked his wife if he could be involved in bringing up their daughter to strengthen the relationship between them. In Egyptian culture, men do not tend to help their wives in taking care of babies, and especially in changing nappies. Fahita’s comment, which included addressing Hassan with the name ya sūsū [Oh, Susu] can be seen as a kind of jocular abuse since using this name usually ascribes an effeminate nature to a man, which is not acceptable in Egyptian and generally in Arabic culture.

(5) (fāhīta) wibtadit teghayyar elkawāfīlah walla lissah?
(Fahita) Have you started to change diapers or not yet?
(ḥasan) āh ʾibtadit. ʾana dāyman baʾūl limirātī ʾin ʾana ʿāyiz yibʾa liyya dūr muhim baʿmilu bitikrār dah biyʾawwī ilʿilaqa bin iwi binha
(Hassan) Yes, I started to do so. I always tell my wife that I want to have an important role and do something repeatedly because this would strengthen the relationship between us.
(fāhīta) ya sūsū
(Fahita) Oh, Susu.

In Example (6), Abla Fahita also employs jocular abuse in satirising Elham Shaheen’s physical appearance, implying she has resorted to Botox and plastic surgery due to old age. She uses a sarcastic remark to point out rudely that the disproportion in the sizes of Elham’s two cheeks may be ascribed to the famous slap on Elham’s face by an older, long dead Egyptian actor, Mahmoud ElMelegy, in a well-known film scene rather than the failed application of Botox.

(6) (fāhīta) ya ḥabibti wana baʾ ūl liyh ʿandik khad ʾakbar min khad wana illi fakrāh ilbutuks ṭiliʿ maḥmūd ilmilīgi
[Fahita: Oh, dear! And I was wondering why you have one cheek larger than the other. […] I thought it was Botox but it turned out to be Mahmoud ElMelegy.]

4.2.1.2 Insults – negative references to the guest’s family or friends

There are also negative references to the guests’ spouses (past and present). In the case of the male guests, Fahita brings out her jealousy of the guest’s wife and her negative feelings towards her. In the case of the female guests, on the other hand, she would flirt with the guest’s husband if he was present on the show as Rania Youssef’s husband was. In (7), she tells Rania that she wants “to try” her husband, which implies a desire to have sexual intercourse with him, and that a good friend would not deny her friends anything. This can be taken as funny, despite the sexual content, since a husband is not something to be shared with others, particularly in the case of Egyptian women who are stereotypically depicted as highly possessive of their husbands and extremely jealous of other women.

(7) (fāhīta) hāḥ lā shawwaʾtīni ʾagarrab
[Fahita: Oh! You made me eager to try him.]
(rānya) lā lā shawwaʾtik tishūfīh mish tigarrabīh ʿiyb matʾūlīsh kida
[Rania: No No! I made you eager to see him not to try him. This is a disgrace! Don’t say that!]
(fāhīta) lā ʾana ʾaḥib ilṣāḥba illi matistakhṣarshi ḥāgah fi ṣāḥbithā
[Fahita: No! I like the friend who wouldn’t deny her friend anything.]
(rānya) lā ʿand hina lā wimish hayinfaʿ hanikhṣar baʾḍ ya fāhīta
[Rania: No! This wouldn’t work. We will lose each other (spoil our friendship) Fahita.]
(fāhīta) khalāṣ ʾatfarrag wimish lāzim ʾadūʾ
[Fahita: Ok. I will look and not necessarily taste (try).]

Fahita flirts with Rania’s husband (in 8) and constructs herself as closer to him than Rania herself (in 9), which depicts a humorous attempt to snatch Rania’s husband.

(8) (fāhīta) inta ya ḥabibi illi gāyzah. inta gāyziti innahārḍah
[Fahita: You, honey, are a reward. You are my reward tonight.]
(9) (fāhīta) ḥabibi wiṣḥāb min zamān winti illi dakhīlah
[Fahita: He has been my lover and friend for a long time and you are an intruder.]

In Example (10), Fahita tells Hassan that he tied himself up with marriage at a young age. She expressed her intolerance of that fact by repeating twice that Hassan’s wife has tied him up even more with the children. Her jealousy of Hassan’s wife can be detected from the structure since she used an inversion starting with the verb rabatitak which included the enclitic feminine infix t [she] to refer to the wife and the enclitic object pronoun k [you], then the subject mirātak [your wife]. The inversion, the repetition of the structure as well as the contemptuous tone used by Fahita disparages the wife, so that the viewers infer that Fahita is (or, is pretending to be) jealous of Hassan’s wife. The use of bilʾiyāl [with the children] as the means of tying up reflects a common metaphor in Egyptian culture since it is usually said that a wife binds her husband to her and takes away his freedom through hasting to get children. Hence, the metaphor of depicting the children as the binding or rope that links the man to his wife is quite common.

(10) (fāhīta) bas ʾinta rabaṭ nafsak badri ya sunsun
(Fahita) But you have tied yourself up quite early on, Sonson.
(ḥasan) ʾaḥla ḥāgah
(Hassan) It is the best thing.
(fāhīta) rabaṭitak bilʿiyāl mirātak rabaṭitak bilʿiyāl
(Fahita) She bound you to her with the children, your wife. She bound you to her with the children.

In (11), Fahita uses her catchphrase structure, a present tense third-person singular verb with an enclitic object pronoun yihiddaha [Damn her], to curse Maged’s wife when Maged used the expression mirāti [my wife] which itself has the enclitic possessive pronoun.

(11) (māgid) maʾḍarshi ʾaʾūl ʾana mirāti ʾāʿdah
[Maged: I can’t say because my wife is here.]
(fāhīta) yihiddaha
[Fahita: Damn her]

Abla Fahita’s jocular abuse extends to encompassing the guests’ friends, other celebrities, women in general, and so on. In (12), she negatively refers to Elham Shaheen’s friends using the Colloquial Egyptian plural forms sharrāniyyīn wi ḥarābīʔ for evil and chameleons. The paradox is that the same utterance is likely to be found humorous since she uses the negative description sharrāniyyīn wi ḥarābīʔ followed by the colloquial coordinating conjunction for contrast bas [but] and a metaphor intu min guwwah khaṣṣa khaṣṣa [on the inside you are lettuce, lettuce]. This metaphor is quite common in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic to refer to loveableness humorously. The metaphor may also, for some generations, evoke intertextual relations with a famous TV show in the 90s, namely Candid Camera with Ibrahim Nasr, in which the plus-size actor, dressed as a lady with excessive make-up, involved ordinary Egyptians in pranks in public places including restaurants, clinics, butchers’ shops, among others. He used to say to people when they reacted badly inta ʿaṣabi bas min guwwah ʾalbak ʾalb khaṣṣāya [you are nervous but on the inside you have the heart of a lettuce].

(12) (fāhīta) bas ʾinti ʿalīki shillah ya ilhām mish nāʾiṣku ghiri -- huwwa illi yishufku biḥaʾīʾi min barrah yiʾūl sharrāniyyīn wi ḥarābīʔ bas intu min guwwah khaṣṣa khaṣṣa
[Fahita: But you have quite a coterie, Elham, that only lacks me […] whoever sees you all would truly think you are evil chameleons but deep down you are lettuce (loveable).]

4.2.1.3 Insults – negative references to other celebrities

Fahita makes a sarcastic comment regarding the age of Ghada Abdel Razeq who is co-starring in a TV series with Maged in (13). This is considered a taboo area for Egyptian female actresses who tend to keep playing characters much younger than their real age in both TV and cinema. The structure maybānshi ʿaliyha 62 sana [she doesn’t look 62 years old at all] is an unpalatable presupposition since she gives the number as a fact. It is possible that this remark, which may be taken as a joke through obvious exaggeration, aims at stressing that Ghada always plays the role of a much younger woman who is the object of love. Fahita’s sarcastic remark on Ghada’s age forms a kind of paradox with the following statement that she loves her.

(13) (fāhīta) maybānshi ʿaliyha 62 sana … lā liʿilmak ʾana ʾaḥibbahā khāliṣ … ghāda dūn ʿan jīlhā kulluh
[Fahita: She doesn’t look 62 years old at all. […] for your knowledge, I love her so much. Ghada, above all of her generation of actresses.]

It should be noted that Fahita only uses age as an element of jocular abuse in reference to female actresses. This may be because most actresses resort to plastic surgery and continue to star in works that are not suitable for their age.

She also satirises Hany Shaker, a famous Egyptian singer and the head of the Syndicate for Musical Professions in Egypt, for his sad songs (14). She makes a further sarcastic remark stressing that Rania was patient enough to act as a model in three of Hany Shaker’s music video clips without committing suicide.

(14) (fāhīta) lā kifāya ya ḥabibti innik istaḥmilti talāta miyuzik vidyu maʿa hāni shākir wimantaḥartīsh
[Fahita: It is enough, darling, that you have tolerated three music videos with Hany Shaker and you haven’t committed suicide.]

4.2.1.4 Condescension

Not only does Abla Fahita abuse others with her snide comments but she also praises herself and presents herself as superior to others. She tends to present herself as a superstar and always refers to the success of her programme, the number of her viewers and the jealousy others hold towards her. An example of her haughtiness can be found in (15) when Maged asked her about the reason why she went to the Dubai Film Festival.

(15) (māgid) ʾaywa yaʿni ʾinti ʾih ʿilaqtik bilmahraganāt rāyḥa ilmahragān liyh ʾaṣlan
[Maged: Yes, but what is your relation to festivals? Why did you go to the festival in the first place?]
(fāhīta) stār sūbar stār buṣ baʾa kul da wibitisʾalni liyh wilgumhūr illi ʾāʿid dah
[Fahita: (I am) a star, a superstar […] look around you! All this and you are asking me why? And the audience present here?]
(māgid) yaʿni ʾinti kida baʾiti stār lamma tiʿmili kida
[Maged: You mean that you become a star when you do so?]
(fāhīta) imm ilṣarf da kulu wilkamirāt wi ʾuddāmi muzz ʾāʿid ʾuddāmi mithabbitah wi mimaṣmarāh wilnās illi ʾāʿdah wilʾiʿlanāt. kul dah stār sūbar star
[Fahita: All the expenses (on the Duplex set) and the cameras. And I have a stunning muscular guy pinned with me (who has to stay with me), and all the people present here, and the advertisements. All this. (I am) a star, a superstar!]

Fahita’s haughtiness is also clear in (16) when she states that she has her own show while Hassan only costars in Arab Idol with three other colleagues. She further implies her superiority to Hassan when she mocks his sitting position at the side of the judges’ table, because the seating arrangement has the two male judges on the sides and the two females in the middle.

(16) (fāhīta) Bas inta ʿārif ʾaktar ḥāgah baḥibbaha fi ʿilāqitna yā sunsun
[Fahita: Do you know what the best thing I like about our relationship, Sonson?]
(ḥasan) ʾaywa
[Hassan: Yes.]
(fāhīta) in iḥnā ilʾitnin ṣaddaʾna fi baʿ
[Fahita: That we both believed in each other.]
(ḥasan) ṭabʿan ya fuffah
[Hassan: Sure, Foffa.]
(fāhīta) mm inta kunt muwazziʿ maghmūr wana kunt ʿala qadr shiwayyah min ishshuhra ʿamalna ilʾughniyyah naṭaritna lifuʾ dilwaʾti ʾana ʿandi birnāmig liwaḥdi winta bitiṭlaʿ wisṭ ʾarbaʿah
[Fahita: mmm you were an obscure music arranger and I was a bit famous. We made the song and it was a hit that took us up. Now, I have my own show but you share with three people.]
(ḥasan) ḥaʾʾik ḥilwah ḥilwah ḥaʾʾik
[Hassan: (laughter) you have a point. This is a good one. A good one. You have a point.]
(fāhīta) winta ya ḥabībi ʾāʿid ʿala iṭṭarf wana banzil fi nuṣ ilkādr
[Fahita: And you, my love, are sitting on the side far from the centre and I am at the focal point of the shooting angle.]

Again, in (17), when Fahita refers to Elham’s new film project, she pretends to want a bigger part than Elham’s, insinuating that Elham’s older age would not make her the star she used to be, and stresses her (Fahita’s) ability to achieve the difficult formula of combining true art and financial success. The difficulty of this combination is stressed as a sarcastic reference to the low standard of many Egyptian films which sacrifice art in order to make money.

(17) (fāhīta) ḥabibi ʿāwzīn film iyh baʾa taksīr bas lāzim dūri ʾakbar min durhā wi ʾaham
[Fahita (addressing Tamer Habib the suggested author of the film and who was present in the audience because he is one of Elham’s close friends): Honey! We want a smashing film but my part has to be bigger and more important than hers (Elham’s)]
(ilhām) ṭabʿan ʾinti ʾawwil marrah lākin ʾana sit baʿd mīt film falāzim barḍu tiḥtirmi ilʾaʾdamiyyah …. ʾana mish ʾakbar minnik sinnan
[Elham (stressing that her name has to be written first in the film credits): Of course! This is your first time but I have 100 films. You have to respect seniority[…]. I am not older than you!]
(fāhīta) imm iskut ya lisāni iskut ya lisāni
[Fahita: I would keep silent! I would keep silent!]
(fāhīta) lā maḥna haniʿmil baʾa ilmuʿādlah ilṣaʿbah gawāʾiz wi ʾīradāt
[Fahita: We will achieve the difficult formula – awards and revenue. (The difficulty being balancing quality with popularity)]

Fahita always stresses the jealousy of other female show hostesses of her success. She continually mentions two famous Egyptian hostesses, namely, Mona Elshazly and Lamees Elhadeedy (18).

(18) (fāhīta) illi ʾana fīh dah. da lamīs wi muna haymūtu nār
[Fahita: What I have here. Lamees and Mona are dying of jealousy of me.]
(ilhām) wallāhi ghayrānīn minnik
[Elham: By God, they are jealous of you?]

In (19), she tells Rania Yousef that she (Fahita) is a pioneer, that she is beautiful and that she does not stop amazing herself everyday. Note that she describes herself as pioneer three times in the same utterance. The English word bayunīr [pioneer] is commonly used as a loan word in Colloquial Egyptian.

(19) (fāhīta) ʾana sabbāqa bayunīr bayunīr
[Fahita: I am a pioneer, pioneer pioneer.]
(fāhīta) ḥilwa wallāhi ʾana babhir nafsi kul yūm ʾaktar wi ʾaktar
[Fahita: I swear to God I am beautiful and everyday I amaze myself more and more.]

4.2.1.5 Negative expressives (curses and ill-wishes)

Abla Fahita also curses her guests and expresses ill wishes towards them, their spouses, friends, fans, and the audience (see Examples 20 and 21). She frequently uses the curse yihiddik [damn you], with all its morphological variations: the present tense second-person singular with enclitic pronoun which can be used for both masculine and feminine with variation in the pronunciation between yihiddik (f) and yihiddak (m), the present tense third-person singular with enclitic pronoun for a feminine object yihiddaha, the present tense second-person plural with enclitic pronoun for both masculine and feminine yihiddiku, and the third-person feminine singular tithad.

She curses one of the female fans who has supposedly submitted a question with sexual content to be put to Maged.

(20) (fāhīta) yihiddik ya fayʾah ʿala da suʾāl
[Fahita: Damn you, Fayqa, for this question.]

She expresses her ill wishes for Elham, who acts as the head of her family and controls the lives of her siblings, that she will grow old and they will be happy to avenge themselves and get rid of her.

(21) (fāhīta) bukrah tikbari wi tithaddi wi yintiʾmu minnik
[Fahita: Tomorrow, you will get old and weak and they will have their vengeance.]
(fāhīta) ilḥalaʾa bitikhlaṣ wilsana bitikhlaṣ wi lāzim ʾukhtak di tithad
[Fahita: The show is almost finished and the year is almost finished and your sister has to be destroyed (brought down from an undeserved higher position)!]
(ilhām) rabbina yihiddik
[Elham: May Allah destroy you!]

4.2.1.6 Challenging/unpalatable questions or presuppositions

Within the jocular frame, Abla Fahita employs jocular mockery during most of the show. She establishes intimate relations with the guests, which appears in her inventing nicknames to address her guests: Hassan was addressed as Soona and Sonson, Elham as Elly, and Rania as Ranooty. She also metaphorically invades the guests’ private spaces with intrusive questions about bank accounts, wages, and wealth.

In (22), she asks Elham where she got the money from to get her expensive diamond earrings and sarcastically identified the source as either the revenues of film hits or tax evasion. The reference to film hits is quite sarcastic since it is common knowledge that Elham lost a lot of money producing a number of films that did not achieve any financial success. The question about the state of Elham’s bank account also supports the irony about her losses in film production.

(22) (fāhīta) ilḥalaʾ ilʾalmāz hayākul min ilʾuṣṣah ḥittah… da ʾih ḍarabāt ʾaflām walla taharrub ḍarībi ʿādi ʿashan ʾabʾa ʾastilfuh minnik ḥatta yibʾa ḥilw ʿalayya ʾawi ʾawi wiʾana ḥatta widni ʾaḥla min widnik
[Fahita: The diamond earrings match the fringe. You got (the money to buy) it from film blockbusters (hits) or normal tax evasion? I may borrow them from you. It would definitely suit me since my ear is more beautiful than yours.]
(ilhām) liyh ʾana widni ʾaḥla[16]
[Elham: Why? My ear is more beautiful!]
-------------
(fāhīta) bas ʾakhbar ilḥisāb fi ilbank ʾih ya ilhām
[Fahita: How is your bank account, Elham?]
(ilhām) madyūna wallāhi madyūna
[Elham: I am in debt! I swear to God I am in debt.]

Fahita directed a similar question to Rania who is known to be very prolific as she acts in both TV series and films every year (23). Fahita, in reference to Rania’s accumulating wealth, used a quite common metaphor in Colloquial Egyptian in which getting a lot of money is depicted as the rolling of dice. This metaphor may also evoke an intertexual link with a famous folk song which was a hit at the time Rania’s episode was first broadcasted.

(23) (fāhīta) wi lissa baʾa ya ḥabibti ʾāʿdah fi masr ilgidīdah walla ilẓahr liʿib
[Fahita: Do you still stay in Misr Elgedeedah or have the dice rolled (you made a killing)?]

She also asks intrusive questions about personal activities related to hygiene and beauty maintenance. In (24), she asks about the amount of time Rania spends in the toilet.

(24) (fāhīta) ṭayyib rānya bituʾud ʾad ʾih fi ilḥammam
[Fahita: How long does Rania stay in the toilet?]

Fahita also mocks Hassan’s disorganised wardrobe in (25). Her use of the action verb tulṭum [slap your face] is cultural since this physical gesture is associated with severe shocks in Egyptian culture.

(25) (fāhīta) bitiftaḥ dūlābik inta tulṭum?
[Fahita: When you open your wardrope, you slap your face?]
(ḥasan) āh biẓẓabṭ
[Hassan: Yes. Exactly.]
(fāhīta) ṭab mish kifāya baʾa wi niʿdil ilḥāgah di ya ḥasan wi tinaẓẓam
[Fahita: Isn’t it enough? It is time that you tidy things up, Hassan.]
(ḥasan) di baʾa ʿuyūb ya fuffah wi ʿādi
[Hassan: These are personal defects, Foffa.]
(fāhīta) baʾa ilʾamar dah warāh hargalah
[Fahita: This handsome man is careless and disorganised?]
(ḥasan) biẓẓabṭ kiddah
[Hassan: Exactly.]

4.2.2 Implicational impoliteness

In addition to Abla Fahita’s intensive use of conventionalised formulae as clearly manifested in her insults, intrusive questions, and curses, she also deploys implicational impoliteness to a great extent. Indeed, a great deal of Abla Fahita’s appeal is likely to be ascribed to her implicatures and word play. Instances of implicational impoliteness in Abla Fahita are found to be convention-driven and form-driven. Indeed, the majority of examples fall within the category of form-driven impoliteness since Abla Fahita exaggerates by using insinuation and sexual innuendo.

4.2.3 Convention-driven impoliteness (sarcasm and mock politeness)

Convention-driven impoliteness is manifest in Abla Fahita’s sarcasm and mock politeness. In (26), she implies a negative view of Elham Shaheen’s early films, referring to one of her films as ilgarīmah ilfaniyyah [the artistic crime] due to its low standard.

(26) (fāhīta) ha ya ili baʾa. ilgarīmah ilfaniyyah di kānit fi ʾay film
[Fahita: Elly, in which film was this artistic crime?]

It should also be noted that Fahita’s sarcasm is not confined to her words. It is also conveyed by her intonation which gives the impression that she is not genuine. In Example (27), her intonation indicates the opposite meaning of her utterance while talking to Elham about her diamond earrings.

(27) (fāhīta) ʾana ya ilhām mish ʿawzālik ya ḥabībti ghir ilkhir
[Fahita: I only wish the best for you, my dear Elham.]

Also in (28), she is not genuine in praising Elham’s capacity in performing action scenes in her films, in stressing people’s inability to forget one film, and in referring to Elham’s convincing performance in one scene.

(28) (fāhīta) ya waʿdi ʿala ilʾakshan
[Fahita: Oh my God! What an amazing action!]
(fāhīta) huwwa dah ḥad yinsāh
[Fahita: Can anybody forget that (film)?]
(fāhīta) biṣarāḥa ilʾadāʾ muqniʿ khāliṣ
[Fahita: Honestly, the performance is very convincing!]

4.2.4 Form-driven implicational impoliteness

Instances of form-driven implicational impoliteness are abundant. Sexual innuendoes are frequently employed by Abla Fahita.

4.2.4.1 Sexual innuendoes

Sexual innuendoes are Abla Fahita’s trademark. Many people must enjoy the hidden meanings or sexual content which lie at the core of Fahita’s jocular remarks. In fact, academic research has shown that people tend to enjoy jokes involving taboo topics more than non-taboo topics (e.g. Kuhlman, 1985). As well as the audience, the guests are quite sure that Fahita’s jocular remarks might not be entirely innocent. The laughter they receive points out how much people are actually enjoying her sexual innuendoes. They usually involve references to the sexual appeal and good looks of the male celebrity guests and others.

We have to take into consideration that Abla Fahita is performed by a man, whose identity is unknown to both guests and viewers, despite some rumours circulating. The guests in the show, as well as the viewers at the Duplex and in front of TV screens, are well aware that the sarcastic and sexual comments are not really being made by a woman (i.e. by a woman behind the female puppet, in which case their identity parameters would not be in disagreement with each other), but by a male artist behind a female figure. This male artist acts his emotions and reactions out in his female guise, but is, in fact, seen by audiences as a male due to his voice qualities. He manifests impolite behaviour for entertainment at the cost of celebrities, but his disguise adds to the expression of impolite meanings through the satirical/stereotypical representation of a middle-aged, rich woman as viewed from a male perspective. This manoeuvre can be considered as an additional source of entertainment as well as impoliteness (evoked by a man ridiculing women of the Abla Fahita-type). It should also be noted that, despite the female figure, it is man’s language that the audience is presented with and reacts to. In Egypt, as a conservative Middle-Eastern society, which is masculine in character and marked by high power distance, such manifestations of impoliteness, particularly sexual innuendoes, are surely perceived differently (and accepted more) when they are performed by a man than if they had been acted out by a real woman. It is a fact that the show is popular and Fahita’s banter and impolite behaviour are widely acclaimed; however, the reception would not have been the same if the person behind the puppet had been female. In this case, a female would have faced the wrath of society and her remarks would not have been accepted.

In the selected data, the sexual innuendoes are present from the very beginning when she welcomes the two male guests to the Duplex. She welcomes Hassan with a song (29), in which she mentions that all her friends fancy him and want to share him with her.

(29) (fāhīta) kul iṣḥābi ʿinhum fīh yāma saʾalūnī ʾih gara ʾih wakhdāh liwaḥdik ʾāfla ʿalih hāti ya ʾabla nikhammis fīh ḥinni ʿalina ilwād warrīna daḥna khalāṣ riglina wilʾabr
[Fahita: All my friends fancy him (have their eyes on him). They always ask me why I lock him up to keep him only for myself. They demand “Let’s all share him, Abla!.” Have mercy on us and show us the young man. Our feet approach the grave (We are about to die)]

The use of nikhammis fīh (share him) evokes the metaphor lust is hunger. This expression is usually used in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic to refer to sharing a cigarette. Hence, Fahita metaphorically depicts Hassan as a cigarette that middle-aged ladies crave to share. This metaphor is further extended by the women’s plea to Abla Fahita to have mercy on them by showing them Hassan. Fahita’s reference to Hassan as ilwād [the young man] emphasises his desirability, particularly with depicting her friends as cougars and stressing their old age. The use of the metaphor riglina wilʾabr [our feet approach the grave] is quite common as an abusive remark made about old people in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic, particularly when referring to the old people who disregard their age and act as if young.

In Maged’s episode, Fahita welcomes him with an extended metaphor depicting him as a local product (since he is Egyptian) and wondering why people would complain about the home industry if the product in front of her is perfect (30). The metaphor has a sexual innuendo as she says to the audience at the Duplex nigarrabuh maʿa baʿ [we will try together], with trying here implying having a kind of sexual activity with Maged.

(30) (fāhīta) gibnālkum muntag maṣri nigarrabuh maʿa baʿ ḍ… raḥḥabu maʿāya bilmuntag ilmaṣri māgid ilmaṣri … lā muntag yifriḥ… maṣṣināʿah ilmaḥaliyyah ḥilwa ahu… ʾummāl ilnās bitishtiki liyh
[Fahita: We brought for you an Egyptian product that we will try together. Welcome with me the Egyptian product, Maged ElMasry. The product is satisfactory. The local industry is really good so why are people complaining?]

As shown in Example (31), Maged is quick to join her in this metaphor. He also wonders why people would claim that the Egyptian product is defective and states that it is perfect. It is possible that Maged’s ability to quickly take up and run with Abla Fahita’s sexual innuendoes motivated the artist performing Fahita to take things a step further, thus making the sexual innuendoes clearer and more intense. What Fahita says next to describe the still unspecified Egyptian product can be taken to refer to a penis: biykarmish [it shrinks] and biyʿīsh [it lives longer]. Again, Maged adopts the same line and adds that the product biyʿiysh yaʿni wibyistaḥmil [lives longer and endures]. This leads Fahita to extend the metaphor further and ask him about the number of times he washes it everyday. The use of the enclitic pronoun with the present tense second-person verb bitighsilu [washes it] rather than mentioning the word product makes the implication a penis is being referred to even stronger and would lead most people to interpret the question as a query about the number of times Maged has sex everyday.[17] Fahita herself confirms and encourages this interpretation when she says that ilniswān dimāghha wiskha [Women are so dirty-minded] and refers to ilʾiḥtibās ilḥarāri waṣal ildubliks [the global warming (which) has inflicted itself on the Duplex]. Note that the selection of words like ilniswān for women and wiskha for dirty (instead of issittāt and qazirah which have the same meaning) is not quite acceptable in Colloquial Egyptian. They are considered to be taboo words by many people in Egyptian society. They are not the kind of words that parents would like their children to use.

(31) (māgid) bas mish ʿārif liyh dāyman biyʿayyibu fi ilmuntag ilmaṣri. da ilmuntag ilmaṣri tamām
[Maged: I don’t know why they speak ill of Egyptian products. The Egyptian product is perfect.]
(fāhīta) imm biyʾ ūlu biykarmish
[Fahita: They say it shrinks.]
(māgid) huwwa ʾih illi biykarmish
[Maged: What shrinks?]
(fāhīta) ʾāh… bas biyʿīsh biyʾ ūlu biyʿīsh
[Fahita: Yes! But it lives longer. They say it lives longer and endures.]
(māgid) huwwa min nāḥyit biyʿīsh… biyʿīsh yaʿni wibyistaḥmil
[Maged: Yes, it lives longer and and endures.]
(fāhīta) wibtighsiluh kām marrah baʾa filyūm … da mish maʿūlah ilniswān dimāghha wiskha khāliṣ. ilʾiḥtibās ilḥarāri waṣal ildubliks
[Fahita: How many times do you wash it everyday? (laughter) […] It is unbelievable. Women are so dirty-minded! […] Global warming has inflicted itself on the Duplex.]

The focus on the male guests’ sexual appeal and sexual activities continues throughout both episodes. In (32), she asks Hassan if his daughter has taken after him in his cuteness or has taken her mother’s annoying behaviour instead. Fahita implies Hassan’s sexual appeal and, at the same time, she abuses his wife.

(32) (fāhīta) wi ya tara baʾa ilbannūtah wakhda ḥalāwit babāha walla zan māmitha?
Fahita: I wonder whether the girl has taken her father’s cuteness (beauty) or her mother’s buzzing?]
(ḥasan) lā wakhda ḥalāwit māmitha ṭabʿan
[Hassan: (laughter) No, she has taken her mother’s beauty, of course.]

Fahita stresses Hassan’s physical appeal (33), by enumerating his charms and referring to the presence of some people who are jealous of him.

(33) (fāhīta) inta tāʿib nafsiyyit nās kitīrah ya sunsun
[Fahita: you are causing psychological problems to many people, Sonson.]
(ḥasan) lih ya fuffah?
[Hassan: Why, Foffa?]
(fāhīta) māl wi gamāl wi ʿiyāl wi ʾuṣṣah shimāl
[Fahita: You have money, beauty, children, and stylish hair (a fringe on the left side).]

In Example (34), she also expresses her admiration for Maged’s grey beard and then asks a question about mīn biyilʿablak fīhā [who plays with it]. In Colloquial Egyptian, using the expression “play in/with it” without specifying the object of play can always be taken as a sexual innuendo.

(34) (fāhīta) mish maʿūlah ḥilwa khāliṣ iddaʾn ilbiyḍah di … mīn biyilʿablak fīha
[Fahita: It is unbelievable how sweet is this greyish beard. Who strokes it for you (play in/with it)?]

Then, further into the male guests’ episodes, many of her questions and remarks imply a sexual content. In Maged’s case, she brings a list of questions which are supposedly sent in by his female fans when they knew he would be Abla Fahita’s guest. All the questions have explicit and/or implicit sexual references. The questions addressed to Maged (35) include whether his lips are natural or augmented. In the question, Fahita ascribes to Maged’s lips the modifier ilmistiwiyyah [ripe] which is usually used with fruits and vegetables. This use builds on her use of the conventional metaphor depicting lust as hunger and sex as food.

(35) (fāhīta) bitisʾalak baʾa bula ya magid ishshafāyif ilmistiwiyyah di ṭabīʿi walla manfūkha
[Fahita: Paula asks you, Maged, these ripe lips are natural or augmented/silicone?]

Note that the SEX IS FOOD metaphor is employed clearly in Maged’s episode when both Fahita and Maged depict having sex with people from different nationalities as tasting and eating dishes from different cuisines. This metaphor is supported in the interchange in (36) below when Fahita used the word duʾtuh [tasted it] to refer to being married only once. Maged’s question wi duʾti ʾih baʾa ilfatra illi fātit [and what have you tasted recently?] and his selection of the word biygīb [comes] which is used in Colloquial Egyptian for sexual ejaculation further elaborate the metaphor.

(36) (Māgid) bismillāh mashāʾa allāh itgawwizti kām marrah
[Maged: How many times have you got married?]
(fāhīta) hiyya marrah yatīmah
[Fahita: Just once.]
(Māgid) marrah
[Maged: Only once?]
(fāhīta) ʾāh ʾāh mish duʾtuh ghiyr marrah
[Fahita: Yes, yes. I have tasted it only once.]
(Māgid) wi duʾti ʾih baʾa ilfatra illi fātit
[Maged: And what have you tasted recently?]
(fāhīta) duʾt illibnāni wilmaghribi wilhindi bas kān ḥāmi shiwayyah
[Fahita: I have tasted the Lebanese, the Moroccan, and the Indian but the Indian was a bit hot.]
(Māgid) ʾāh ilhindi ʾāh biygīb
[Maged: Yes, the Indian (comes)!]
(fāhīta) ilhindi ḥarrāʾ
[Fahita: The Indian is Hot!]
(Māgid) ʾāh ḥarrāʾ
[Maged: Yes! It is hot.]

The question in (37) from a fan called māma shmūʿ enquires whether Maged has been bulking up his chest. The name of the fan, which can be literally translated as Mother Candles, is itself humorous since the name is not common in Egypt and the description māma is likely to suggest an older person. Thus, the name together with the fan’s mentioned job suggests a kind of person who would hardly come up with such a question. The question itself is musical due to the repetition of the consonant binshak mitdafnish but the words, however, are not common and probably used only in the context of bodybuilding.

(37) (fāhīta) ṭayyib issuʾāl da baʾa min māma shmūʿ. di rabbit manzil wi ʿandaha ṣafḥa ʿala ilfiysbuk bitbīʿ nabatāt wi ʾakl biyti bitisʾalak baʾa wibitʾulak inta binshak mitdafnish
[Fahita: This question is from Mama Shmooa (candles). She is a housewife, and she has a Facebook page which she uses to sell plants and home-made food. She asks you whether you are bulking up your chest?]

The sexual content in the question, in (38), from a fan called Fayqa, who is supposed to be Fahita’s friend, is confirmed even before mentioning the question itself when Fahita curses her for coming up with that question. The expression wibtilʿab bas fuʾ which can be literally translated as you only play in the upper part may have a sexual implication that he does not have full sexual intercourse.

(38) (fāhīta) yihiddik ya fayʾah ʿala da suʾāl. ilmuhim fayʾah ṣaḥbiti hiyya ʿalaṭūl bitshūfak fi ilbūlz jim fabitʾūl in inta mish muhtam bilrigliyn wibtilʿab bas fuʾ ya tara liyh
[Fahita: Damn you, Fayqa, for this question. Anyway, my friend, Fayqa, sees you all the time in the Bulls’ Gym, and she says that you are not exercising the legs and that you only work out the upper part of the body. We wonder why?]

Then, there is a question about the kind of clothing Maged wears while sleeping (39). Translated literally, the question would be “how do you sleep at night wearing shorts or English?.” The use of English as the other option to wearing shorts matches the stereotypical assumption among Egyptians that Europeans tend to sleep naked.

(39) (fāhīta) mis fīna bitisʾalak bitnām biʾih biliyl bilshurt walla inglīzi
[Fahita: Miss Feena asks you, how do you sleep at night wearing shorts or English (naked)?]

The description provided in Example (40) of the fan sending this question is incredibly humorous: a 52-year-old virgin running a prostitution network. Even Maged notices the humorous combination and asks Fahita to confirm whether the lady concerned is a virgin. Additionally, as running a prostitution network is a criminal act in Egypt, this makes it impossible that any woman involved in such a business would simply confess it. The question itself concerns Maged’s sexual preferences in women.

(40) (fāhīta) yallah baʾa issuʾāl ilmarrah di min ilʾānisah muhgah
[Fahita: The question this time is from Miss Mohga.]
(Māgid) ʾānisah
[Maged: A virgin?]
(fāhīta) ʾāh itniyn wikhamsīn sanah wi bitdīr shabakah munāfya lilʾādāb. binnisbalak baʾa innak nigm sinimāʾi muzz wi mitābiʿ ilfan fi ilʿālam kulluh mīn ʾaktar sit siksi filʿālam binnisbalak
[Fahita: Yes. She is 52 years old (laughter) and she runs a prostitution network. Since you are a sexy film star and a follower of art all over the world, who is the sexiest woman on the earth for you?]

The description of the next fan, in Example (41), as a 27-year-old woman who has been convicted in a legal case for religious contempt is incongruous with the content of the question which has a religious aspect. It is known that Islam allows polygamy, giving men the licence to marry four wives. It is ironic, of course, that the fan would express contempt for religion except for this aspect. There is also an unpalatable presupposition in the question itself that Maged cheats on his wife. Maged’s sexual appeal is highlighted with the reference to him as ilmuzz [the sexy guy]. The use of the words ilmuzz to refer to a sexy guy and ilmuzzah to refer to a sexy woman is currently quite common in Colloquial Egyptian.

(41) (fāhīta) ṭab yallah fi suʾāl min bibisān sabʿah wiʿishrīn sanah mamsūkah fi ʾaḍiyyit ʾizdirāʾ ʾdyān bitʾulak mawḍūʿ izzūgah ittanyah da kitir khāliṣ ya tara ilmuzz mumkin yiʿmiluh walla inta muktafi bilkhiyanah. khalāṣ ʿirifna ilʾigabah muktafi ʾāh muktafi
[Fahita: There is a question from Bebesan, 27 years old and a convict in a contempt of religion case. She tells you that bigamy (having a second wife) is widespread. Would the sexy guy do it or is he satisfied with cheating? Now we know the answer, satisfied! Yes, satisfied.]

The next question in (42) also includes a reference to Maged as ilmuzz [the sexy guy]. The fan’s question seems innocent at first. She asks about the age when Maged was first hit on. Maged’s answer, that in his hometown, Tanta, adolescence starts early probably at the age of 10 or 12 years, leads Fahita to make a shocking remark about the young age Maged reached sexual puberty. This is a sensitive issue in Egypt and not normally acceptable to discuss.

(42) (fāhīta) ṭanṭ kārīmān … bitisʾalak baʾa witʾullak kān ʿanduh kām sanah ilmuzz lamma ʾawil marrah ʾitʿākis
[Fahita: Aunt Kareeman asks you how old the sexy guy was when he was hit on for the first time?]
(māgid) min sin ilmurāhqah min ʾawil sittāshar sanah. iḥna fi ṭanṭa binibdaʾ ilmurāhqah min badri itnāshar sanah ʿashar sinīn murāhiq ʿalaṭūl
[Maged: In adolescence beginning from 16 years old. In Tanta, we start adolescence early. 12-year-old and 10-year-old boys are adolescents.]
(fāhīta) maʿūlah balaght ʿandak ʿashar sinīn
[Fahita: Is it possible that you reached puberty when you were 10 years old?]

Although the fan did not want to say her name and only used initial letters, Fahita mentioned the name humorously and did not respect the fan’s desire for anonymity (43). The question itself has the unpalatable presupposition that the sexual scenes in films are real since the actor may be enjoying them. Maged’s reply to the question which refers to his meeting with Abla Fahita as sexual intercourse or sexual interview (note that the expression illiqāʾ ilginsi in Arabic can be translated in both senses) highlights the sexual nature of the questions. Fahita’s answer to Maged’s remark ʾarāmil baʾa [typical widows] presupposes the sexual starvation of widows and can be taken as an abusive remark about widows in conservative Egyptian culture where most widows prefer not to remarry and spend the rest of their lives raising their children.

(43) (fāhīta) yallah baʾa issuʾāl da ʿala lisān issadīqah nūn mīm illi hiyya nirmīn miḥammad ʿashān mish ʿāyzah tiʾūl ismaha bitʾullak law kunt mumaththil kunt tiḥib tiʿmil mashhad sākhin maʿa mīn
[Fahita: This question is from a friend N. M., who is Nermeen Mohamed, but she doesn’t want to say her name. She asks you, if you were an actor, which actress would you like to have a sex scene with?]
(māgid) huwwa ʾih illiqāʾ ilginsi illi ʾana fīh dah. mish fāhim yaʿni
[Maged: What kind of sexual intercourse/sexual meeting I am in right now? […] I don’t get it.]
(fāhīta) ʾarāmil baʾa
[Fahita: Typical widows.]

The descriptions of the fans sending in the questions continue to use the conventionalised formula of negative third-person references. The fan sending the question is described as marīḍah nafsiyyan wi ʿāyshah ʿala gihāz ilkahraba [a patient suffering from psychological disorders and is kept going by an electric device] (44). Maged’s sexual appeal is further highlighted through referring to him as ilḥilw, which can be translated as the sweet guy or the handsome guy. This reference maintains the use of the LUST IS HUNGER/SEX IS FOOD metaphor. The question, which on the surface appeared to be an innocent query about the number of push-ups Maged can do, has a deeper meaning since it can be understood as an enquiry about the number of ejaculations he can have. The deeper meaning comes to the surface more explicitly when Fahita rephrases the question saying bitgīb kām marrah [How many times do you come?]. This question is typically used in sexual talk in Colloquial Egyptian to enquire about the number of ejaculations. Maged’s answer which is accompanied by laughter supports the sexual interpretation since he stated that it depends on the place he is playing at. Fahita, then, invites him to “play” at the moment ṭayyib matʾūm tilʿab kida and declares that the episode will be banned anyway, implying her awareness a boundary has been breached. Unsurprisingly, the episode was removed from YouTube due to its heavy sexual content.

(44) (fāhīta) ṭanṭ shushu ʾallāh yishfīha marīḍah nafsiyyan wi ʿāyshah ʿala gihāz ilkahraba bitisʾalak imm ilḥilw biygīb kām fiḍḍaghṭ
[Fahita: Aunt Shushu, may Allah grant her recovery, who suffers from psychological disorders and is kept going by an electric device, asks how many push-ups the handsome guy can do?]
(māgid) ḍaghṭ
[Maged: Push-ups?]
(fāhīta) imm bitgīb kām marrah
[Fahita: How many times do you come?]
(māgid) ʾiḥim ʾiḥim… wallāhi ʿala ḥasab ilmakān illi ʾana balʿab fīh
[Maged: mmm It depends on the place I am playing in.]
(fāhīta) ṭayyib matʾūm tilʿab kida. il ḥalʾa di mish hatitzāʿ
[Fahita: Why don’t you play now? […] This show will be banned.]

Sexual content is also present in Hassan’s episode but to a lesser extent than in Maged’s. Anyone watching both episodes can come to the conclusion that Hassan did not welcome the sexual insinuations and repeatedly asked Fahita to have limits while Maged, on the other hand, adopted the opposite attitude and went along with Fahita as if they were in a competition to see who could load their remarks with more sexual content.

In Example (45), when Fahita welcomes Hassan to the show and he says waḥashtīni [I missed you], since almost 2 years had passed since their earlier encounter when they co-starred in their hit song, Fahita hastily says ikhtishi baʾa ya sunsun [Be shy]. The colloquial Egyptian Arabic command ikhtishi is typically used when someone does something obscene or unacceptable, particularly related to sexual advances. A sexual context is evoked further when Fahita adds that Hassan’s wife is her friend, pretending that this would prevent her morally from accepting Hassan’s sexual advances. Hassan’s response to this remark hatibtidi [she will start] indicates his familiarity with Fahita’s tendency to continually make sexual insinuations.

(45) (fāhīta) ʿāmil ʾih ya ḥabībi
[Fahita: How are you, my love?]
(ḥasan) ilḥamdu lillāh waḥashtīni
[Hassan: Thank God. I missed you.]
(fāhīta) ikhtishi baʾa ya sunsun da inta mirātak ṣaḥbiti
[Fahita: Stop it, Sonson (be shy). Your wife is my friend.]
(ḥasan) ʾallah hatibtidi baʾa
[Hassan: Oh my God. She is going to start.]

Then, Fahita brings Hassan’s wife into the conversation again in (46) by asking whether his wife was present at the Duplex or not, as if she was negotiating permission to speak more freely. Hassan rejects Fahita’s attempts to delve into stronger sexual content using a common metaphor in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic limmi iddūr [end the round in a game] and stressing it even more by the adverb khalāṣ [enough].

(46) (fāhīta) hiyya mirātak hina walla mish hina?
[Fahita: Is your wife here or not?]
(ḥasan) ma khalāṣ baʾa limmi iddūr ya fuffah
[Hassan: It is enough. Don’t go too far, Foffa.]

Fahita, however, insists on sticking to the habit of using sexual insinuations and refers in (47) to a sexual encounter with Hassan during their work on their hit song in Berlin. Fahita’s intonation, the intentional mispronunciation of Berlin (barlīm), and the repetition of the structure ghaṣb ʿanni wi ʿannuh [was couldn’t help it/it was forced on us] can be found humorous. Hassan defends himself by depicting what Fahita is saying as casting catastrophes on him (an extreme form of “get me into trouble”) and indirectly accuses her of lying, saying that Fahita and her daughter Karo (in a previous section of the episode) ʿammālīn tikhtirʿū qiṣaṣ kitīr [are making up a lot of stories]. Then, again he asks Fahita not to go too far in sexual content lāzim yaʿni matzawwidihāshi. The use of the adverb lāzim [it is necessary] stresses his desire not to be dragged into sexual conversation.

(47) (fāhīta) ʾilli ḥaṣal fi barlīm fi waʾt mayistahlūshi dah
[Fahita: What happened in Berlin at the time of (we were shooting) Mayestahlushi[…]]
(ḥasan) ʾinti hatirmi ʿalayya balāwī
[Hassan: You are going to (cast catastrophes on me) get me into trouble?]
(fāhīta) wallāhī kān ghaṣb ʿanni wi ʿannuh ghaṣb ʿanni wi ʿannuh ṭab fakir lamma kunt hatwaʾʾaʿ ni min ʿala ilʿagalah?
[Fahita: I swear we couldn’t help it! We couldn’t help it. Do you remember when you almost knocked me off the bike (while we were riding together)?]
(ḥasan) fuffah ʾana shāyif ʾinti wi kāru ʿammālīn tikhtirʿū qiṣaṣ kitīr ʾiḥna ḥabāyib bas barḍu lāzim yaʿni matzawwidihāshi
[Hassan: Foffa – I think you and (your daughter Karo) are inventing a lot of stories. […]. We are close to each other, but you must not go too far.]

Again in (48), Fahita makes another sexual innuendo, reminding Hassan of the incident when his wife came across Fahita’s sandals in Hassan’s luggage after they returned from their trip to Germany. Through this question, Fahita wants to evoke the scenario of a wife coming across evidence that her husband is cheating on her and is having an affair. The use of the verb ʾafashit [arrested, caught], which is a Colloquial Egyptian verb often used in the context of criminals being arrested and carries negative connotations of bad consequences, further supports this scenario.

(48) (fāhīta) fākir lamma mirātak ʾafashit ṣanḍali ilfushya fi shanṭitak?
[Fahita: Do you remember when your wife found/caught my fuchsia sandals in your luggage?]

In (49), Fahita reminds Hassan of an incident that happened to him when he was a boy in which he mistakenly entered the hotel room of a famous actress while she was undressed, having a massage, and the actress had a big argument with Hassan’s family. Fahita stresses the fact that the actress did not welcome Hassan’s breaking into her room because he was young at that time, and playfully remarked that if Hassan entered Fahita’s room at this time she would never let him out. Fahita’s intonation and swearing by God that she will not let Hassan out of her room stresses her sexual insinuation.

(49) (fāhīta) bas hiyya maʿagabhāsah baʾa ʾinnak dakhaltʿalihā?
[Fahita: So, she didn’t like that you entered her room?]
(ḥasan) mā ṭabʿan wāḍiḥ ʾinnu maʿagabhāsahi
[Hassan: Of course. It is clear she didn’t like that.]
(fāhīta) ṭabʿan kunt ṣughayyar ʾana dilwaʾti law dakhalt wallāhī mā ʾaṭallaʿak
[Fahita: Of course. You were young at that time. If you enter my room now, I swear to God I will not let you out.]

Hassan adopts Fahita’s line of sex-related joking only twice. The first instance (50) is when Fahita told Hassan that she would allow her friends to have selfies and kisses with him for money. She gave him a list of the prices that range from 50 Egyptian pounds [about 3 dollars] for a selfie to 350 [about 22 dollars] for a selfie with a kiss. Hassan’s question about the money presupposes his agreement to offer these favours to her friends. Fahita quickly reacts to Hassan’s accord with the sexual joking by extending it through telling Hassan that it is shameful to sell sexual favours for money.

(50) (fāhīta) ṣaḥbāti baʾa ya sunsun ʾarafūnī lamma tiʿibt khāliṣ faʾana baʾa qarrart ʾakhlaṣ min zannuhum wi ʿazamtuhum yitṣawwarū maʿāk silfī bi khamsīn ginih issilfī wi law būsah miyyah wi law silfī bi būsah tultumiyyah wi khamsīn
[Fahita: My friends have annoyed me, Sonson. I got really sick of it. So, I decided today to get rid of their annoyance and invited them to take selfies with you. […]. 50 pounds for a selfie; 100 pounds for a kiss; 350 pounds for a selfie with a kiss.]
(ḥasan) ṭab ilfulūs rāyḥa fīn?
[Hassan: Where would the money go?]
(fāhīta) ʿīb ya sunsun hatbūs ṣaḥbāti bilfulūs? Gāy ʿāwiz yibūs ṣaḥbāti bilfulūs
[Fahita: Shame on you, Sonson. Are you going to kiss my friends for money? He wants to kiss my friends in return for money.]

The second time occurs when Hassan talks about Fahita’s desire for Wael Kafoury (51). Fahita started by asking Hassan for a favour but he was the one to bring Wael Kafoury and Fahita’s desire for him into the conversation. Of course, this was instantly seized on by Fahita and she adopted the imagined line of Wael Kafoury pleading for Hassan to set them up. The use of the plea winnabī [For the Prophet’s sake] relates to Egyptian culture. It is quite common in Egyptian Arabic to swear by or plead to other people (as a stronger meaning of please) with the Prophet. In Islam, however, it is only acceptable to swear by Allah and any other swearing is Haram [forbidden].

(51) (fāhīta) ʾana ʿāyzah minnak khidmah basīṭah khāliṣ
[Fahita: I need a small favour from you.]
(ḥasan) ʾinsī
[Hassan: Forget it.]
(fāhīta) līh bas ya sunsun?
[Fahita: Why Sonson?]
(ḥasan) wāʾil kāfūrī laʾ
[Hassan: Wael Kofoury, NO]
(fāhīta) winnabī ya sunsun
[Fahita: For the Prophet’s sake, Sonson.]
(ḥasan) lā ya fuffah
[Hassan: No, Foffa.]
(fāhīta) tiẓabbaṭnī maʿāh
[Fahita: Set me up with him.]
(ḥasan) lā ya fuffah lā ya fuffah ʾintī wi kāru ʿinkum min wāʾil ʾana ʿārif
[Hassan: No Foffa No. No Foffa No. You and Karo crave (have your eyes on) Wael, I know.]

Hassan’s reactions to Abla Fahita’s sexual innuendos are typically different from those of Maged. Hassan repeatedly stressed that Fahita should not go too far and adopted the sexual line only twice, which reduced the number and the intensity of Fahita’s sexual remarks in his episode. Maged, on the other hand, challenged Fahita through adopting the same line of joking, which led rapidly to a stronger sexual content. Undoubtedly, Maged’s responses to Fahita’s sexual remarks are affected by his knowledge of the fact that there is a man behind Fahita. If he was talking to a woman, he would possibly have ignored or refused the sexual implications. But being aware that he was not talking to a real woman granted him more liberty and encouraged him to adopt the same line. It is quite common in Egyptian culture that when men gather, they can talk freely about sensitive issues such as sex. However, it is not acceptable to have such content on TV, which accounts for the controversy around Maged’s episode.

4.2.4.2 Word play

There are other instances of form-driven implicational impoliteness in Fahita’s use of word play to create humorous effects. In Example (52), referring to Fahita riding the bicycle behind him in Germany, Hassan uses the word ʿarūsah which can be interpreted as a puppet, a bride, or a youthful girl (in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic). Fahita was quick to respond to the use of this word denying the stronger contextual interpretation of it as a puppet, since this would undermine the construction of reality which is the basis of the whole show. Hence, Fahita playfully resents being called a puppet, particularly when having significant feminine curves.

(52) (ḥasan) māshī ṭayyib ʾana hasʾal innās māshī fi ʾalmānyā rākib ʿagalah wiwarāyā ʿarūsah innās ʾāʿdah bitbuṣ ʿalīnā
[Hassan: Ok, then. I will ask those people. I was riding a bicycle in Germany with a puppet/pride/beautiful woman behind me. People were looking at us.]
(fāhīta) ʿarūsah? Kul ittaḍārīs di wi ʿarūsah?
[Fahita: (laughter) A puppet? All these curves and (you say) puppet?]

In Example (53), talking about Wael Kafoury, Fahita plays on the resemblance of his last name with the well-known hypermarket franchise, Carrefour. Hence, she said kārfūrī instead of kāfūrī, then she described him as hāybar [hyper], which is typically used to refer to bigger supermarkets, to stress his mascular, appealing physique. She extends her word play by describing him as something reminiscent of the luxury of the past khīr zaman, which is the name of another chain of hypermarkets in Egypt.

(53) (fāhīta) ʾana min zaman wana bashūf wāʾil kārfūrī da hāybar wallāhī rāgil hāybar ḥāgah kida min khīr zamān
[Fahita: For a long time, I have seen Wael Karfoury. He is Hyper. I swear he is a Hyper man. He is something from Kheir Zaman (the luxury of the past)]

In another example of word play (54), Fahita remarks that the name of a female singer, who has been singing with Hassan and who had been the winner of an earlier season of Arab Idol, is Karmen. She also confirmed with Hassan that his wife’s name was Zeina. Then, she played with both names since they are also the labels of famous tissue paper brands in Egypt saying that Hassan is missing only Fine (the name of a third brand of tissue paper) and he can open a kiosk, since kiosks are outlets for tissue paper, among other things.

(54) (fāhīta) hiyya ṭiliʿ ʾismahā kārmin?
[Fahita: Her name turned out to be Carmen?]
(ḥasan) kārmin ʾāh
[Hassan: Yes, Carmen.]
(fāhīta) wi mirātak ʾismahā zīnah?
[Fahita: And your wife’s name is Zeina?]
(ḥasan) ʾāh
[Hassan: Yes.]
(fāhīta) da ʾinta nāʾ ṣak fāyin wi tiftaḥ kushk
[Fahita: You are only missing Fine and you will open a kiosk.]

Generally speaking, it is rude to make remarks about age particularly with women. For actors and actresses, more specifically, the age issue is even more sensitive since it is vital for them to look young and attractive to maintain their stardom and keep receving offers for leading roles. The selected guests vary in their age: Maged is 57 years old; Hassan is 38; Elham is 60, and Rania is 47. Age, together with gender, can be seen as a variable that possibly plays a role regarding the type of triggers used by Fahita. As shown in the analysis, Fahita uses different triggers depending on the age of the guest or the third-person celebrity she is talking about. With the females, she generally uses insults including variations between Personalised Negative Assertions, Personalised Negative References, and Personalised Third-Person Negative References as well as Challenging or Unpalatable Questions/Presuppositions. There are remarks about Elham’s old age and her continuous use of plastic surgeries and Botox, about Rania’s facelift and liposuction surgeries as well as revealing clothes, and about other female celebrities playing roles younger than their true age. With male guests, however, Fahita uses Sexual Innuendoes and Challenging or Unpalatable Questions/Presuppositions. There are remarks about Hassan (who is in his 30s) stressing his current sexual appeal and being desired by women. As for Maged, who is in his 50s, Fahita refers to his sexual experiences and his sexual potency. The fact that Abla Fahita uses implicational impoliteness intensively is something which, in my opinion, makes the show entertaining for its viewers due to the creative ways in which Abla Fahita formulates her jocular mockery and abuse.

4.2.5 The guests’ responses to impoliteness events

“[I]t is a convention about interaction that frankness, rudeness, crudeness, profanity, obscenity, etc., are indices of relaxed, unguarded, spontaneous, i.e. intimate interaction” (Jefferson et al. 1987, 160). Fahita can therefore be seen to be exploiting this convention by mocking her guests. Although ridiculing others is characterised as a basic impoliteness strategy (Bousfield 2008, 114–5, Culpeper 1996, 358), Abla Fahita’s ridicule is somewhat different in quality in that it is interactionally achieved within a jocular frame, and the targets of ridicule are known not to take it seriously. This is clear in the guests’ responses to the mockery and abuse which range from accepting the ridicule with just laughter, and even going along with it, to counter-attacking defensively and offensively.

Fahita’s question to Maged, provided in (55), implies that the actress Ghada Abdel Razeq always takes the major role in the TV series at the expense of her co-stars. The expression zay kul marrah [like every time] implies that this is a habit which occurs frequently. Maged defends himself using mitbarwiz, which is a variation of the same Colloquial Egyptian word used by Fahita in the question mibarwizāk which literally means “to provide a frame for a picture.”

(55) (fāhīta) imm ṭayyib wi mibarwizāk ḥilw fi ildūr
[Fahita: Has she given you a lead role (in the TV series)? Or just like every time?]
(māgid) lā ʾana ṭūl ʿumri mitbarwiz
[Maged: No. I am always getting lead roles.]

Elham also defends herself against the unpalatable presupposition in Fahita’s question that actresses receive expensive gifts and money from rich men (56). She denies the implied accusation stating that all her money has been earned through her work as an actress.

(56) (fāhīta) manti ya ilhām barḍak ḥad yisīb ittamthīl wishshīkāt wilhadāya wilʿaṭāya wiyrūḥ yintig
[Fahita: Elham, nobody would leave acting, cheques, gifts and grants and go into film production?]
(ilhām) ʾana labiygīli shīkāt wala hadāya wala ʿaṭāya -- ʾana ilfilūs illi ishtaghalt bīhā fi ḥayāti ruḥt kida zay ishshaṭrah ḥaṭithā filʾintāg
[Elham: I don’t get any cheques, nor gifts, nor grants. I was clever enough to spend the money I accumulated while working all my life in film production.]

Rania also defends herself against Fahita’s sarcastic remark about Rania’s participation in two German and Japanese films (57). Fahita’s humorous remark that Rania was trying to buy a car rather than getting international fame depends on the fact that both Germany and Japan are better known for their car manufacturing than for their cinema industry. Here, Fahita looks down upon Rania’s international ventures since international fame in Egyptian culture is stereotypically associated with getting a part in a Hollywood film. Rania defends herself saying that it was only an attempt to get to know people, learn, and work at the same time.

(57) (fāhīta) ʾāh bas yābāni wi ʾalmāni – ʾinti bitḍawwari ʿala ishshuhra walla ʿala ʿarabiyyah kuwayyisah
[Fahita: But Japanese and German? Are you searching for fame or a good car?]
(rānya) lā ʾana makuntish baḍawwar ʿala ḥāgah -- ʾana kān biygīli ʿurūḍ in ʾana ʾaʿmil ḥāgah laṭīfah ʾatʿallim fīhā ʾatʿarraf ʿala nās ʾabtidi ashtaghal watʿallim fakunt baḥāwil ʾatʿallim washtaghal
[Rania: No. I haven’t been searching for anything. I had offers to do something nice in which I can learn something and get to know people. I just wanted to start working and learning so I was trying do so.]

The guests’ replies may take the form of repeating part of Fahita’s remarks. The repetition implies that they cannot believe what she is implying or are shocked by her impoliteness. Maged, in Example (58), repeats Fahita’s remarks at the very beginning of his episode, being struck by her sexual implications.

(58) (fāhīta) imm biyʾ ūlu biykarmish
[Fahita: They say it shrinks.]
(māgid) huwwa ʾih illi biykarmish
[Maged: What shrinks?]

The guests’ replies may also take the form of a jokingly offensive counter-attack. In Example (59), Elham first repeats Fahita’s description of her as a tyrannical lady. Then, she denies this claim and stresses that she is a nice person while Fahita is tyrannical and abusive of all people.

(59) (fāhīta) ʾāh hiyya dāyman issit ilʾādrah manẓar ʿala ilfāḍi
[Fahita: Yes, the strong (tyrannical) lady is always an empty charade (just a big mouth)]
(ilhām) ilʾādrah
[Elham: The tyrannical?]
(fāhīta) dāyman manẓar
[Fahita: Always an empty charade!]
(ilhām) ṭab ʾinti ʾādrah wi muftariyyah ʿala ilbashar kulluhum lākin ʾana ʾana ṭayyibah
[Elham: It is you who are tyrannical and abusive of all people while I am nice.]

Elham also attacks Fahita, when she mentions that she is younger than her (60).

(60) (fāhīta) lā ʾana haʾullik naṣīḥah tismaʿīhā min waḥdah ʾaṣghar minnik bas tiʿraf ʾaktar minnik
[Fahita: I will give you a piece of advice coming from a person who is younger than you but knows more than you.]
(ilhām) bas ʾinti mish ʾaṣghar minni ʾinti mish ʾaṣghar minni
[Elham: But you are not younger than me. You are not younger than me.]

Rania also attacks Abla Fahita when she praises her beautiful looks when she was younger and accuses her of giving her the evil eye (61). This is kind of humorous since it matches the cultural belief in Egypt that when people praise your good looks or skills, they may be envying you which may lead to the loss of that beauty or skill.

(61) (fāhīta) ilwish mashdūd wishshaʿr mafrūd widdihn mashfūṭ
[Fahita: The face lifted, the hair straightened, the fat sucked!]
(rānya) ʾinti mish bitdardishi ʾinti ʿammalah tiḥsidi
[Rania: You are not chatting with me. You are envying me.]

Hassan also counter-attacks Fahita when she accuses him of almost knocking her off the bicycle. In (62), he tells Fahita that she was the one that almost knocked him off and added the question ʾintī hatistahbilī? [will you play crazy? (are you kidding?)] to further stress her fabrication of stories.

(62) (fāhīta) ṭab mish kunt hatwaʾʾaʿnī min ʿala ilʿagalah?
[Fahita: You almost knocked me off the bicycle, right?]
(ḥasan) ʾintī ʾillī kuntī hatwaʾʾaʿīnī min ʿala ilʿagalah ʾintī hatistahbilī?
[Hassan: You were the one who almost knocked off the bicycle. Are you kidding?]

Note that the guests’ remarks are always interspersed with laughter, thereby expressing “appreciation” of Abla Fahita’s acid-tongued humour.

A number of themes, comprising the content of Abla Fahita’s jocular mockery and abuse, as targeted at her guests, have been found in the course of my analysis. There are a number of common themes when talking to male celebrities including emphasising their sexual appeal and Fahita’s making sexual advances towards them. Different themes appear when she hosts female guests including displays of stereotypical female jealousy, with Abla Fahita claiming that she is more beautiful and more desirable. Common themes for both male and female guests have been identified as follows: current and past relationships, friends and family, as well as habits and personality.

It should be noted that prosodic cues such as intonation and mimicry, which Culpeper defines as “caricatured re-presentation” (2011a, 160), also play a significant part in Abla Fahita’s success. In addition, facial or gestural cues, such as winks, hugs, and kisses, are also quite prominent in the show. However, this falls beyond the scope of my article.

5 Conclusion

In this article, I have combined Culpeper’s (2011a) model with the notions of “jocular mockery” and “jocular abuse,” and also considered the recipients’ responses to impoliteness for a comprehensive analysis of impoliteness in Abla Fahita. Due to the analysis conducted in this study, it can be argued that impoliteness, which arises mainly through deviating from the expected or the socially accepted, has the potential to provoke laughter and amusement. Hence, the meaning of impoliteness, as the use of “communicative strategies” which are “designed to attack face, and thereby cause social conflict and disharmony” (Culpeper et al. 2003, 1564), is likely to change in relation to my data. Although the impoliteness is recognised as having the potential to create conflict and disharmony, it fails to create sincere conflict and disharmony immediately, though it often provokes mock conflict and disharmony, through which it creates good humour instead. Disharmony, on the other hand, is created elsewhere (among social conservatives).

The humorous-impoliteness formula, which is manifest in Abla Fahita, is based on the concept of “tendentious” humour, i.e. we experience pleasure when seeing other people targeted by ridicule or derision and occupying a less favourable position than ourselves. As viewers of Abla Fahita, we enjoy a sense of social release as we watch someone else break taboos or social conventions.

Through both quantitative and qualitative analyses, I have answered both research questions. Abla Fahita uses a mixture of conventionalised formulae and implicational impoliteness triggers. For the former, she tends to use negative third-person references and unpalatable questions as triggers the most. For the latter, the most used triggers are sarcasm and sexual innuendo. I also found that the triggers differ according to the gender and age of the guest. The most frequent trigger with male guests is sexual innuendo, whereas it is sarcasm with female guests.

The Abla Fahita show has brought something different and controversial onto Egyptian Television due to Abla Fahita’s mixed identity: Fahita is a puppet, not a real woman; the voice behind it is a male one; and the language used is not typical for women in Egyptian culture. Indeed, Fahita epitomises a satirical representation of a rich and independent, middle-aged woman seen from a male perspective. Hence, Fahita is represented as a stereotypical cougar type of woman, being flirtatious towards men and jealous and envious of, and judgemental towards other women. The Abla Fahita Show’s success in transgressing social convention and avoiding censorship, supported by the immense popularity of the show among millions of viewers in Egypt and across the Arabic speaking world is evidenced by its ability to move beyond television to the big screen. At the time of writing, a full-length film has just been commissioned by and released on Netflix,[18] which offers the possibility of global fame.

    Conflict of interest: Author states no conflict of interest.

    Data availability statement: The datasets (i.e. the full Arabic transcripts of the four selected episodes) generated during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Received: 2020-07-18
Revised: 2021-05-19
Accepted: 2021-05-29
Published Online: 2021-07-08

© 2021 Wesam M. A. Ibrahim, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.