Team membership is an important factor in determining how people speak to each other. When we join a new workplace, we quickly learn which kind of language or humour is acceptable, and which is not. The Language in the Workplace team investigated how people express complaints, whingeing and refusals in a factory team. Previous studies have indicated that people typically soften complaints or refusals with polite language to maintain a good image, however we found that factory workers actually strengthened their complaints by using swear words.

e.g. Russell talking to his colleague Lesia, who has responsibility for planning shifts:
Russell: fucking sick of this line (Lesia)
Lesia: [voc]
Russell: stuck here all the time

Swearing was also used as a way of marking solidarity among the factory team. The data indicates that people who know each other well use whinging to gain sympathy and understanding.

e.g. The team coordinator Ginette talking to Sue, a packer:
Ginette: (she) bloody Rylie's useless she's got no computer skills + and Warren
and Tim were carrying on like she was a expert
Sue: [laughs]
Ginette: bloody hell + I'm fucked off

Our analyses show that the way complaints and refusals are expressed within the team are very different from how they are expressed with non-team members. Swear words actually function as a politeness strategy within the team.


Please see our list of publications on Expletives in the Bibliographies section.