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'Walk like a pyramid' due to tension.

Summary: There was a lot of it about on June 24, 2012. So much so, that the presenters of one of those daft television phone-in programmes had to 'ride the storm' of a tirade by a caller from the provinces.

Goodness me, did he go on and on. He was vociferous to the extent that his grammar became like twisted wire and concrete and his ideas were so much scrambled egg on burnt, crumbling toast. What the Egyptian public has done to deserve this is unclear. I blame the programmers and the pioneers of Tuesday Call, an experiment carried out in the early 1970s by the British Broadcasting Corporation that should have stayed that way on a cassette tape gathering dust in the corporation's vaults. Then local radio adopted the idea and the British public ended up with such world-shattering trivia like this:

JAUNTY PRESENTER: And on the line now is Nobby from Hilsea. Hiya, Nobby.

NOBBY: Hello?

JAUNTY PRESENTER: Hello, Nobby. What do you feel about the demolition of the bus stop at Copnor Bridge opposite the pub down there?

NOBBY: Hello? Oh...Yeah...Disgusting.

JAUNTY PRESENTER: Do you have friends?

NOBBY: Yeah, I gossome 'ere wiv me now.

JAUNTY PRESENTER: And what do they think about the bus stop demolition.

NOBBY: Jus' a minute. [Female voices whoop and greet friends] Shuddup, you lot!

So much for the media setting out to educate, inform and be generally repellent. For some years now, we have had in-your-face politics of the coffee shop and the bus queue live on television phone-ins. Now the garrulous members of the public have the opportunity to literally air their views and shout down any opposition in the studio. And the tension before and on June 24 did little to persuade contributors to speak clearly and calmly in their appraisal of the current situation.

While the atmosphere of tension is to blame for some individuals to sound off their opinions, tension created in a studio for the purposes of a quiz show helps reinforce our feelings of security and confirm our view that our fellow men are poorly educated when it comes to general knowledge.

QUIZMASTER: Complete this line from 'The Bangles'1994 hit, "Walk like..."

CONTESTANT 1: A pyramid?

QUIZMASTER: You're the weakest link. Bog off! What word in Arabic denotes a person who has been wronged by the murder of a relative, but to whom blood revenge is still denied?

CONTESTANT 2: Erm...isn't it 'mawtuur'?

QUIZMASTER: Are you asking me or telling me?

CONTESTANT 2 [Decisively]: 'Mawtuur'.

QUIZMASTER: Is the correct answer. You now have several gazillion pounds in the bank.

The term 'mawtuur' is - now for the technical bit - the passive participle based on the root 'w-t-r' that covers bowstrings and intermittent actions. The basic verb 'watar' means to provide a string for a bow, to wrong, harm or cheat someone out of something.

The last meanings may explain the 'mawtuur' form. Double the second consonant and the tension really mounts, as 'wattar' means to stretch, strain, draw tight, tighten and pull taut.

Then there is 'waatar' which refers to an action being done intermittently, at intervals, or with interruptions.

Another derivative is 'mutawattar', which signifies the state of being strained, stretched, or tense, hence the expressions 'twattur al-9ilaqaat' - strained relations (aren't they always, especially during festive seasons when we are supposed to be jolly?) and 'twattur siyasiy' - political tension.

And all these emanate from a root that refers to bowstring, which goes to show that most abstract ideas and feelings are best expressed with metaphors that are very much down-to-earth. Similarly, the word "tension" is itself derived through French from Latin 'tensio' (constriction).

According to Random House Webster's College Dictionary, "tension" covers the act or state of stretching or straining, mental or emotional strain, intense, suppressed suspense, anxiety, or excitement, a strained relationship between individuals, groups, or nations, "the longitudinal deformation of an elastic body that results it its elongation, and electromotive force, potential (as in electricity).

The above list certainly applies to the atmosphere in this country during and after the Summer Solstice.

From all this tension, stress must inevitably result. The word "stress" is said to have first appeared in about 1300, when it meant "hardship, adversity, force, pressure."

This may be a fusion of the foreshortening of the Middle French 'destresse', and Old French estrece "narrowness, oppression", in turn derived from Vulgar Latin *strictia, from L. strictus "compressed", the past participle of stringere "draw tight" to which the meanings of the Arabic root 'w-t-r' can be compared. However, the purely psychological sense is attested from 1942.

A certain amount of stress is said by some pyschologists to be a "good thing". According to Selye's model (1975) stress can be divided into eustress and distress.

"Where stress enhances function (physical or mental, such as through strength training or challenging work), it may be considered eustress.

"Persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation, deemed distress, may lead to anxiety or withdrawal (depression) behaviour [sic]," Selye says.

"The difference between experiences that result in 'eustress' and those that result in 'distress' is determined by the disparity between an experience (real or imagined) and personal expectations, and resources to cope with the stress. Alarming experiences, either real or imagined, can trigger a stress response."

So there we have it. What matters now is how we cope with tension, disparities and stress.

Before I forget, the photograph last week was that of Ahmed Hassanein Pasha (1889- 1946), who was an Oxford-educated Egyptian courtier, diplomat, Olympic athlete in fencing and tutor to King Farouk. Alas, he did not win a medal.

Copyright Eltahir House 2012

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Date:Jun 28, 2012
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