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Tone Tags

Tone tags or tone indicators are abbreviations put at the end of messages transmitted through text to help convey the tone of the message. Similar abbreviations can be dated back to the percontation point of the 1580s, which was proposed by Henry Denham as a way to indicate rhetorical questions. Today, there are various tone tags available to point out the tone of a given message to avoid miscommunication.

Common Tone Tags / Usage

Tone tags are often used when a certain message can be ambiguous in tone, or for clarification. Some commonly used tone tags include:

  • /j (joking)

  • /hj (half-joking)

  • /s (sarcastic)

  • /srs (serious)

  • /p (platonic)

  • /lh (light-hearted)

  • /gen (genuine)

To use a tone tag, write the tag(s) you want to use at the end of the message - for example, a platonic “I love you so much!” could be written as “I love you so much! /p”. For certain messages which may cause alarm or anxiety, the tone tag could be written in front as well as at the end of the text (e.g. “/j I’m quitting school, forever, no going back /j”).

Keep in mind that using inappropriate tone tags just to be funny or using a tone tag behind a hurtful message to play it down is still rude behavior, as it’s making fun of people who use tone tags even if you don’t need them yourself.

Tone Tags and Neurodivergence

Tone tags are often associated with the neurodivergent community, as many neurodivergents with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder or dyslexia may find it more difficult to interpret tone through face-to-face communication, even more solely through text. Using tone tags can make the message more clearly and aid their interpretation.

Tone Tags and General Communication

Of course, you don’t have to be neurodivergent to use tone tags - tone tags are a tool for everyone to make communication clearer and more effective. A study by ​​Albert Mehrabian, a psychology professor at UCLA, shows that tone of voice and body language play a crucial role in communication; through text, there are no non-verbal cues. Tone tags can help everyone reduce miscommunication and misinterpretation!

References / Sources

Truss, Lynne (2003). Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Writer: Annette Ma

Editor: Karina Cheung

Thumbnail: Megan Kwok


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