Tone tags. What are they? And why haven't I heard of them?
Language is changing and evolving all the time, and online language or "internet speak" is changing too. Languages are meant to work for us, to help us communicate, and emojis simply aren't cutting it anymore. Tone tags are the next step in the online evolution of our language.
Tone indicators, or tone tags, are best described as an online language feature. They are relatively new and have been increasing in usage over the last few years. Originating on platforms such as Reddit, Tumblr, and Twitter, they have spread quickly to pretty much every social media that exist and are even beginning to be used by some people when texting.
Tone tags are used at the end of messages or posts and are a slash followed by a few letters that are shorthand for the tone you are trying to convey. They help to show the tone of a message that might be hard to figure out the meaning without. For example, the message "I love you!" might seem either platonic or romantic, but by using a tone tag at the end, it is easy to clarify. Instead, you might send "I love you! /p" showing the person that you love them in a platonic way.
The use of tone tags can be incredibly helpful, as without being able to hear someone's voice or see a person's face, it can be hard to tell the intent of a message. So much of our communication relies on nonverbal cues that don't exist in written language. Many people from older generations prefer talking on the phone to texting because of this fact. Making it easy to see the need for tone tags. They are also particularly beneficial to neurodivergent people who often already struggle with interpreting tone in person, making the struggle that much harder when communicating online.
The intentional misuse of tone tags is extremely harmful. They were created to help clarify messages on the internet; the people who use them and rely on them take tone tags at face value and expect you to use them accordingly. Tone tags are not to be used as an excuse to be mean, and you cannot just add /j (joking) to the end of an otherwise nasty message. People will call you out on it. Tone tags should be used accurately to the best of your ability (if you choose to use them) as their primary purpose is to clarify.
The choice to use tone tags is up to you. They can be used on any social media platform as frequently or infrequently as you like. You can even use multiple tone tags in the same message, for example, "I don't think we can be friends anymore /j /LH" (joking, light-hearted). If you are new to using them and are scared of not knowing when to use them, go with your gut. As long as they are accurate to what you're trying to convey, there is no wrong way to use them.
Now that you know what those letters at the end of people's posts and messages are and why people use them, you probably want to know what they mean. Below is a list of the more commonly used tone tags and their definitions.
/j - joking
/hj - half joking
/s or /sarc - sarcastic
/srs - serious
/lh - light hearted
/nm - not mad
/gen - genuine
/pos - positive
/neg - negative
/t - teasing
/th - threat
/p - platonic
/r - romantic
/nbh - nobody here
/nay - not at you
/ay - at you
/f - fake
/q - quote
/l or /ly - lyric
/c - copypasta (copy paste)
/ref - reference
/m - metaphor
/li - literal/literally
/hyp - hyperbole
This list should help you get started, but don't think you need to memorize all the ones I've listed. Using one or two can be great, and I've put the most used ones near the beginning. If you're unsure, you can always ask the person using them, or your answers are usually a quick google search away. You might come across ones you've never seen before too. And that is okay.
Nobody knows everything, especially when it comes to internet slang.
Instead of ignoring tone tags or looking down on them, we should be embracing them just because they aren't the proper English you might find in a dictionary as they might make your life a little bit easier.
I am Charlie, a 15-year-old student from Christchurch, New Zealand, and my pronouns are they/she.
I am a creative, outgoing person and am always up for a challenge.
I believe that everyone should know how to use social media confidently and safely in our increasingly digital world. I am proud to be a member of the Safe on Social Youth Advisory Committee.