In written text, it can be difficult to convey the appropriate sentiment. For example, if I tell someone to "go fly a kite", I could say this with a smile and/or wink in person and they would know I'm joking. Is there an accepted way to convey the intended sentiment via written text, particularly via e-mail?

I often see the smilie face emoticon :) or :-) or ;) associated with comments that are meant without offence/offense ;).

Is the emoticon the best/only way we have to communicate a comment intended to be taken in jest?

Note: This may be in the context of a formal e-mail to a group, where the intent of the jest is to disarm an emotionally charged topic/situation. The question is not in regards to what 12-year olds are using to convey jest via acronyms in text messaging.

  • I find the safest approach is to never, ever write anything in jest.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 9, 2015 at 19:02
  • Adding "lol" (laugh out loud) is a common trick to convey humor.
    – user66965
    Nov 9, 2015 at 20:03
  • 1
    @surlawda - Except that I've rarely found that there is anything funny in the vicinity of an "lol" notation.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 9, 2015 at 20:12
  • 2
    In tech/nerd circles some use a </sarcasm> tag at the end of a sarcastic sentence (see the Urban Dictionary and a ThinkGeek tshirt for examples). Of course, the meaning would likely be lost to those not familiar with HTML/XML.
    – Waylan
    Nov 9, 2015 at 21:22
  • 1
    One option is to invoke the name of a comedian, something like "As Henny Youngman might say, Take my wife, please!"
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 9, 2015 at 23:34

3 Answers 3


I'm not certain what our statisticians think about this, but according to my observations, people who have no sense of humor constitute about one half of the human race. Of those, many are touchy and not particularly bright. Thus, absolutely anything, humorous or not, can get misconstrued in an email, or even in a live conversation, no matter how much you smile or wink, no matter how many reassuring gestures you make, etc.

Ergo, to be PERFECTLY safe from morons whose mission in life is to cavil at anything and everything one says, one would need to keep silent at all times. Find a mountain cave and become a hermit, or talk only to birds, like St. Francis.

That said, you could explain that you're about to make a joke beforehand; or make the joke and then explain that you were being humorous (or facetious, as the Philistines say these days). The former is a notch safer than the latter: it preempts the addressee's taking offense; the latter comes off more like an apology when offense has already been taken.

For instance, you could say before making a joke:

"As the famous poet said in jest to his beloved ... "

... and "Just kidding" or "I'm being facetious, please don't take it seriously after.

Alternatively, you could conclude the email with "F... you if you can't take a joke," but that doesn't always work to everyone's satisfaction.


One possibility is the strategic use of

scare quotes

. Another is to use the popular acronym LOL (laughing out loud). People also often insert a semicolon followed by a parentheses in lieu of an emoticon - ;)


Marking your text as being meant in jest sort of takes away from the hilarity of it anyway.
"Go frack yourself, lol jk." isn't really very funny and is sort of just offensive. It's sort of like saying something, and right after saying "just kidding" before the person responds.

The only way I think it can truly work, is if you know the person, and they know that you often express things in jest. But that's not really conveying it within the text itself.

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