In English it's possible to use emojis or "tags" (/j, /hj, /s, etc.) to indicate that a sentence is a joke, sarcastic, etc.

In the long history of the Latin language, was there anything attested close to those?

1 Answer 1


Those tone indicators are fulfilling a very specific need in English. They're supplying information that would normally be conveyed by tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions, and so on: information that's important for a conversation but is not part of the actual words being said.

And this is a need that didn't exist until fairly recently. When you're writing a longer piece of text, like a book or a letter, you can just use prose to indicate that ("…she said with a grimace", "I regret to inform you", etc). And when you're having a conversation face to face, well, then you've got prosody and expressions and such.

This need arose specifically because of people having rapid back-and-forth conversations via text, which wasn't really a thing in Roman times. One could imagine something similar being used in plays, as a sort of stage direction, to indicate how an actor should deliver their line. But if such a thing existed, we don't see it in any of the surviving manuscripts—the only thing they convey reliably is the actual words said, and details like stage directions have to be supplied by modern editors.

Since you mention "the long history", it is certainly possible that later, post-Classical playwrights did include such a thing. That's unfortunately well beyond my area of expertise. But if there was a tradition in, say, mediaeval drama scripts, using shorthand symbols as a cue for the actors, someone else will hopefully know about it and can post another answer.

And, finally, I can give one positive example. In our modern era of rapid text conversations, some classicists will use emoji and tone indicators when conversing in Latin online, just like they would in English ("salvete! 😌"). But this is rare enough that I wouldn't call it any sort of tradition, just a sporadic borrowing from how another language does it.

  • I think additionally those emojis and tags aren't language-specific, but are used by any group that regularly communicates via the internet. It isn't inherently part of the language, per se, but rather of a culture's non-verbal expression.
    – cmw
    Sep 2, 2022 at 17:51
  • Looking at playwrights is a very good idea, I didn't think about it, thanks. Emoji aren't part of any language, but I think one can argue than the tags are (hj = half joking is part of English even borrowed to other Langs)
    – user11281
    Sep 2, 2022 at 18:51

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