what they are, why you should use them, and how to use them
|/gen or /g||genuine|
|/pos or /pc||positive connotation|
|/neg or /nc||negative connotation|
|/l or /ly||lyrics|
|/lu||a little upset|
|/nbh||for when you're vagueposting or venting, but it's directed at nobody here (none of your followers)|
|/sx or /x||sexual intent|
|/nsx or /nx||non-sexual intent|
|/rh or /rt||rhetorical question|
Tone indicators are shorthand for words used to convey tone, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as "a quality in the voice that expresses the speaker's feelings or thoughts".
The tone of someone's voice can be joking, or serious; it can be teasing, or threatening. It can be negative, positive, or neutral. It can be sexually suggestive, or entirely friendly. Tone can do so much to change the meaning and implications of a sentence.
Some examples of tone indicators are "/j", "/s", "/srs", "/p", "/r", "/ly", "neg", "pos", "/gen" and "/c". Though there are many others, these are the ones that are most commonly used and needed for clarity of communication.
The intended use of tone indicators is in text, and they are prevalent on social media where miscommunication is rife, and posts and messages are often misinterpreted.
In fact, in a study, UCLA professor of psychology Albert Mehrabian found that 93% of liking is from non-verbal cues. 38% is due to tone of voice, while an additional 55% is attributed to body language. These cues are often entirely absent in online spaces, such as social media platforms — like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Reddit.
Tone can be especially difficult to parse for neurodivergent people. This is not to say that neurotypical people never misunderstand tone through text, or even face-to-face, because they do — but that neurodivergent people may experience and interpret tone differently.
Tone indicators aren't anything new. The tone indicator "/s" has a well-precedented use, spanning years on Reddit. As early on as the 1580s, there have been tone indicators; Henry Dunham, an English printer, created a backwards question mark, "⸮", which he dubbed the "percontation point*. It was meant to indicate rhetorical questions. Today, we would use "/rh" or "/rt".
frequently asked questions
and some common complaints
How do you use tone indicators?
Typically by putting them at the end of the relevant sentence.
"Wow, you're such a great friend! /gen"
"Wow, you're such a great friend. /s"
However, it is recommended that you put them at the beginning as well as end of a post if the content might otherwise cause distress or alarm!
"/c I’M DEACTIVATING. the fact all of my mutuals ignore me and treat me like the weirdo of twitter, whilst I’m not any person on of ft is unacceptable. 1 like in 24 hours? PATHETIC. i’m so ignored and neglected on here it makes me so beyond infuriated and sad /c"
What's the point of tone indicators?
To indicate tone.
93% of someone's liking of what you say comes from what you do non-verbally, and we often don't have access to these non-verbal cues online.
It can be difficult for neurodivergent people to understand you even in face-to-face, where they do have access to non-verbal cues, so imagine how much harder it is online.
Also, even if you're neurotypical, how many times have you not gotten a joke on the Internet, or taken something the wrong way?
Who can use tone indicators? Who are they meant for?
Tone indicators can be used by, and for, anyone.
They came about as a way for neurodivergent people to be able to understand tone through text, but you don't have to be neurodivergent to use them, or for other people to use them when they're talking to you. After all, tone indicators are a helpful tool for everyone.
What does "neurodivergent" mean?
"Neurodivergent", often abbreviated as "ND", refers to having different mental or neurological function from what is considered "typical" or "normal". The opposite is "neurotypical", which would be to have "typical" mental/neurological function.
Examples of neurodivergence are:
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)autismdyscalculiadysgraphiadyslexiadyspraxia Irlen syndromeOCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)synthesiaTourette syndrome
Neurodivergency isn't inherently bad or weird; it's just the less typical ways variations in the human brain manifest themselves, due to the concept of neurodiversity.
"Neurodiversity" refers to the range of differences in brain function and behavioural traits observed in the human collective — neurodivergent and neutrotypical people alike — whereas "neurodivergent" is used to refer to the individual.
When should I use tone indicators?
Whenever you're saying something that's tonally ambiguous. That is, it could be interpreted many different ways.
"I hate you. /j"
If you're joking around with a friend, and don't actually dislike them.
"I hate you. /ly"
If you're quoting a song that happens to have the lyric "I hate you" in it, and you don't want concerned strangers asking if you're talking about them under your Tweet.
"I hate you. /srs"
If you're being serious, and legitimately hate someone. Don't use the /srs tag as a joke, ever.
Where should I use tone indicators?
Anywhere over text! Social media, texting, e-mails — anywhere that tone is ambiguous, and hard to pick up on.
Using "/j" ruins the joke!
To you, maybe, but think about how you can go into a sitcom, knowing full well that its genre is comedy and its intent is to make you laugh, and still find it funny.
If putting two characters at the end of your joke ruins the entire thing, maybe it wasn't all that funny to begin with.
keep in mind
Never use tone indicators as a joke. It defeats the entire point of tone indicators, strips a safe space from neurodivergent people, and it's just lazy humour.
Person A: "People who like pineapple on pizza... You're on thin ice /lh"
Person B: "WTF, why are you racist?! /srs"
Person A: "Wait, what did I even say? /gen"
Don't make fun of tone indicators, or the people who need them. They serve a good purpose, and help prevent misunderstandings.
Neurodivergent people aren't dense, lacking in reading comprehension, or whatever ableist slur you can throw at them.
Try to remember to include tone indicators in the original post. Often, I will see people who forget to tag their post appropriately, and will only comment "/j" or "/c" long after people respond to the original post.
It might seem harmless if it's just song lyrics, or a funny copypasta, but in other cases it can cause alarm or even induce anxiety.
It may come across as condescending if you use tone indicators in excess. Usually just one or two is enough!
Person A: "Ah, thank you so much! <3 /gen /pos /srs"
Person B: "You don't have to use so many tone tags, I can understand you just fine! /gen /nm"
You don't have to use every tone indicator. Just respect other people's preferences regarding tone indicators.
If the other tone indicators are useful to you or other people around you, then that's great, and feel free to use them as long as it's in good faith, and you're not being misleading!
The most common ones, in my personal experience, are "/j", "/s", "/srs", "/p", "/r", "/ly", "neg", "pos", "/gen" and "/c". This is by no means an exhaustive list or guide as to what you should be using, just the tone indicators that seem most prevalent, as well as pertinent!
Be patient. Sometimes people will misunderstand you.
If you didn't use a tone indicator, people might ask for one, or misinterpret you. Just politely explain, move on, and keep in mind to use a tone indicator for clarity next time.
Sometimes people, neurodivergent or otherwise, won't know what tone indicators are, or what they mean. That's okay. It doesn't make them a bad person. You can explain tone indicators to them, or provide them an explanatory photo, post, or Carrd.
Not all neurodivergent people need, or even want tone indicators. They might feel as though they're being condescended to, or infantilised. Every person is different.
People will often have it explicitly somewhere on their profile if they do want you to use tone indicators, whether it be in their bio, pinned or Carrd.
When in doubt, just ask!
Cambridge (n.d.). Citation. In dictionary.cambridge.org dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tone.
Mehrabian, Albert (1981). Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Dent, Jonathan, editor (2020). Neurodivergent. Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed, Oxford University Press.
Dent, Jonathan, editor (2020). Neurodiversity. Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed, Oxford University Press.
Exceptional Individuals (n.d.). Other Neurodivergent Conditions. Retrieved from https://exceptionalindividuals.com/neurodiversity/other-neurodivergence/.
Truss, Lynne (2003). Eats, Shoots & Leaves.