F-words in client-lawyer consultations. Can profanity be treated as a laughable?

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentationScientific


(Contribution to the panel "Emotion as an action oriented resource in interaction", organized by Reynolds Edward [et al.])The present paper examines the occurrence of a profanity proffered by a peripheral participant to a legalconsultation (B, the client’s brother), and the subsequent work done by the three participants to the interaction to overcome the incident and move forward to the main activity at hand, that is, preparing for filing a divorce suit against C’s husband. It will be shown that the three participants treat the production of the F-word in different ways. The speaker himself treats the F-word as dispreferred with regards to its appropriateness to the kind of interaction, marking it with a long preface, with lengthened words and by framing, bracketing it between two identical excuses “mi scuso il termine=sorry for the term”: B: “insomma (dice pure ''''nsomma) pure un po:: di::[>mi scuso il termine< un po'''' di ca]zzate mi scuso [il termine ma-]” (in short (he also says in short) also qui::teso::me [>sorry for the term<] quite some bullshits sorry for [the term but-]) The laughter produced by the client(C) and client’s brother (B), are very different from one another and do not treat the profanity itself as laughable,but the lawyer’s reply to said profanity. In fact, the lawyer acknowledges that the use of the term “cazzate” (thatis “bullshits”), is indeed apt to describe the situation at hand. Moreover, the lack of laughter by the lawyer (A)during his turn following the profanity displays affiliation and alignment with B, as well as contributes to confirming identities and roles within the interaction. The brother’s burst of laughter shows that he is relieved from not being sanctioned by the lawyer, and affiliates with the lawyer’s stance. On the contrary, the client produces a very soft laughter beginning with a voiceless alveolar affricate and a summons “avvocà” (a contracted word for of “avvocato=lawyer”, typical of Southern-Central Italy) which is produced simultaneously with laughter “°tsahah::=(h)avv(h)oc(h)à°”. Disaffiliation of C is also shown by the change of body posture of C towards A, who shifts from a position of relaxed listening (sitting with head resting on right hand) to an upright sitting position, with both hands in her lap. In conclusion, at least in our episode, profanity is not treated as a laughable by the lawyer, the turn’s recipient, although it is exactly this course of action that sanctions the appropriateness of the F-word in the interaction. The data shown are taken from a small corpus of videorecorded spontaneous interactions taking place in a small law firm in central Italy.
Period20 Jul 2017
Event title15th International Pragmatics Conference
Event typeConference
LocationBelfast , IrelandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Conversation Analysis
  • Laughter
  • F-words
  • Ethnomethodology