“Adesso m’incazzo!”: swearwords as resources for managing negative emotions in interaction

Virginia Calabria, Eleonora Sciubba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Adopting Conversation Analysis and Interactional Linguistics, we explore how interactants express in situ emotions that have been identified as negative – annoyance, anger, etc. – by displaying their stance and fishing for affiliation, and by (dis-)affiliating in response (Stivers 2008). Our entry point are lexical resources mobilized in this interactional process of emotion management: swearwords. Swearwords have received limited attention in interactional studies (Butler & Fritzgerald 2011; Hoey et al. 2021), however they are versatile resources in Italian talk-in-interaction. Grammatically, they are interjections, verbs, simple nouns, phrases, sentences, etc.; interactionally, they are found in turn-initial position, mid-turn, and turn-final position; they can be only a segment of a turn or occupy an entire turn.

Our analysis reveals that swearwords are a) either used to reinforce the speaker’s stance, together with other elements (lexico-syntactical resources, facial expressions, changes in voice quality, etc.), and they are treated as fishing for affiliation; b) or they emerge as the main resource to display urgency and exasperation, and are treated as directives. Using swearwords allow participants to build and shift to different interactional contexts: from jocular/playful situations (in the dinner) to serious and urgent scenarios (in the business meeting). Moreover, the target of the emotions (and the swearwords) can be either outside the interaction, in the context of tellings (reported stories), or complaint sequences; or inside the interaction, in the context of instruction sequences, where recipients need not only to affiliate but to respond.

A sequential and situated analysis of swearwords shows how negative emotions emerge and are locally managed, in interactants’ lexical choices, their stance projection and responses. Thus, we contribute to understandings of how emotions enable interactants to achieve intersubjectivity (Haddington 2007), playing a major role in the ways we experience the world around us and display this knowledge and understanding to our surroundings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)D4-D28
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • emotions
  • swearwords
  • anger
  • complaint
  • stance
  • affiliation
  • intersubjectivity
  • interactional linguistics
  • conversation analysis
  • Italian talk-in-interaction
  • emotion


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