Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Kira Hall

Second Advisor

Barbara A. Fox

Third Advisor

Chase W. Raymond


This study explores the use of profanity in informal interactions among college-aged women at a public university in the western United States. In the corpus of over 100 instances of swear words, we see a recurrent practice through which profanity is used by the recipient of an extended telling to assess a facet of the telling. Through a profane assessment, the telling-recipient positions herself as authoritative. In these interactions, the roles of narrator and listener mostly remain consistent, with one woman as narrator and another as listener. In two- and three-person dynamics, the listener, or one of the listeners, will additionally take on an assessor role beyond assessments that can also be continuers (Goodwin, 1986). These assessments work to problematize the narrator’s story, in particular the opinion or stance (Du Bois, 2007) the narrator has taken regarding the events she is recounting. Through this practice, the assessor constructs her contrary stance and asserts her authority to contradict the narrator. These stances are taken by other participants in the interaction as more definitive—a stronger stance—in a kind of one-upmanship to the narrator. These stances, in turn, accumulate to something like Ochs and Taylor’s problematizer (1995), in which the assessor (in their work, ‘the father’) takes on the role of ultimate judge, which is accepted by the narrator. The use of swear words by young women within the interaction thus points to the repurposing of profanity to create an authoritative identity.