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, </sarcasm> 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 </sarcasm> eventually became </s>.

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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