One of the down­sides to writ­ing online is the dif­fi­cul­ty in con­vey­ing nuance. It can be chal­leng­ing to inter­pret tone from plain text, which com­pli­cates com­mu­ni­cat­ing things like sar­casm.

How­ev­er, true to inter­net fash­ion, peo­ple have cre­at­ed workarounds.

This was the most pop­u­lar way at one point. It’s a hat tip to cod­ing meth­ods, such as HTML and XML. It’s fash­ioned like a clos­ing tag from one of those con­ven­tions, most­ly because it goes after the sen­tence, so as to lead along the read­er for a bit.


Grant­ed, end­ed up being too long to type out. Plus it’s kind of awk­ward on mobile key­boards. And inter­net users are lazy, so it shouldn’t come as any sur­prise that  even­tu­al­ly became .

Even that end­ed up being too much, and it was short­ened fur­ther to just /s.


The tilde. The favourite punc­tu­a­tion of novice typog­ra­phers, who don’t know the key­board short­cuts for bul­lets or em dash­es.

The tilde is actu­al­ly a punc­tu­a­tion mark used to indi­cate approx­i­ma­tion:

  • I bought ~30 apples when I went to the store.
  • I trav­elled ~6,000 kms this past sum­mer.

But in 2001, blog­ger Tara Liloia pro­posed using the tilde to mark sar­casm. It nev­er hit main­stream over the past 16 years, but Liloia’s pro­pos­al must have caught someone’s atten­tion because peo­ple do use it. She pro­posed it as a sin­gle punc­tu­a­tion mark at the end of the sen­tence, but today peo­ple use it before and after the words they want to empha­size as sar­casm.

  • I’m so hap­py to be with you~ (orig­i­nal)
  • I’m ~so hap­py~ to be with you. (today)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it’s dif­fi­cult search­ing for punc­tu­a­tion usage on social media and through search engines; we have no objec­tive way of eas­i­ly deter­min­ing cur­rent or his­tor­i­cal usage of the tilde for indi­cat­ing sar­casm. But you can see here that peo­ple do use it.

So if you want to indi­cate sar­casm online eas­i­ly, those are your options.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness. Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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