Everybody swears on Only Murders in the Building: The interpersonal functions of scripted television swearing

Kristy Beers Fägersten, Karyn Stapleton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Swearing fulfils a range of interpersonal pragmatic functions and also acts as a distinguishing feature of speakers and contexts. In broadcast media, swearing has traditionally been censored or at least limited in its deployment; although when used, it serves characterization, interactional, and narrative functions. In this article, we consider the Disney+ television series Only Murders in the Building (OMITB, 2021–), in which swearing is not subject to standard media constraints, due to its provision on a streaming service. Freed from such constraints, OMITB is distinctive in its unusually high frequency and
dispersion of swearing across characters and contexts. Compared with both real-life and media-based analyses of language use, the swearing in OMITB reflects neither real-life nor standard broadcast patterns. In this paper, we investigate how swearing is used by the characters, and what it is ‘doing’ in the series. In particular, we highlight the role of swearing in affiliation and relationship-building, both between characters in the story world, and between the series and its viewers. Our analysis contributes to understanding the pragmatic functions of media swearing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-105
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date26 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 26 Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would very much like to thank our anonymous reviewers for their careful reading, enthusiasm for the article, and both insightful and inspirational suggestions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s)


  • Affiliation
  • Cursing
  • Media language
  • Pop culture
  • Telecinematic dialogue
  • Televisual narrative


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