Bahaa-Eddin Mazid: "Deconstructing a Contemporary Egyptian Newspaper Caricature"


The man's response consists of two main components: a polite refusal, No+Thanks, and a justification for the refusal, "?asli-nabaati" (I'm a vegetarian). The usage "?asl+clitic" is a colloquial Egyptian Arabic discourse marker. It means "origin" or "cause," and is used simply as an equivalent of "because" or of a semi-colon.
The first component of the response is not a preferred second adjacency pair-part. Its face-threatening effect, however, is mitigated by the expression of gratitude "shukran" (thanks). It is obviously a violation of the Agreement Maxim of the Politeness Principle (Leech, 1983) The second component of the response, the justification, is more problematic. On the one hand, it mitigates an already mitigated refusal — through the positive politeness redress "shukran." A justified refusal is more polite than an unjustified one. On the other hand, it flouts the Relevance Maxim of the Cooperative Principle (Grice, 1975). The word "nabaati" (vegetarian) is an educated adjective which places the man's utterance at the level of High Standard Colloquial Egyptian Arabic in Badawi's (1973) taxonomy.1 Yet, it is not immediately relevant to the proposal of the woman; it has to do with eating habits rather than with getting married.

The second component of the man's response is then the "surprise pulse" of the joke, so to speak, the punch-line of the caricature (cf. Hetzron (1991). The punch-line poses an understanding test because of its superficial irrelevance to the woman's proposal. There must be something non-vegetarian in getting married to this particular woman, and there must be something that relates to "eating" in marrying her. The incongruity between the two schemata — marriage and eating habits — and its resolution are the main sources of humor in the caricature. The man's response is an appropriate second part to an invitation to a meal where meat is served. The man refuses, because he does not eat meat. The only kind of "meat" in the text is the woman's partially naked body. "Languorously rolling her hips" (Fast, 1970, p.88), drawing attention to her bottom, thrusting her breasts, neck, and left thigh forward, wearing a tightly-fitting dress that reveals more than it conceals, smiling, with her head slightly bent backward, the woman seems to be saying "I'm available, my body is my real asset." The image of the woman in the text, in addition to her body language, justifies the man's response, where her body is mistaken for a meal, a very fleshy meal to be sure. Furthermore, the man seems to want to convey his belief that marrying this woman will be only a carnal relationship.


1. Badawi (1973, pp. 89-91) identifies five levels of Contemporary Egyptian Arabic: Classical Arabic; Modern Standard Arabic; High Standard Colloquial; Low Standard Colloquial; Low Colloquial. [RETURN]

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