Today, I Solved the Internet

How many relationships have been damaged due to misinterpreted intentions over text? How many jovial musings mistaken for malicious trollings in comments? How much sincerity has been confused with sarcasm, and vice versa?


Today, I stumbled upon a solution.

The Elcor, an alien race from the Mass Effect series, are monotone. They express emotion through a variety of pheromones and body language that are imperceptible to the other sentient races of the galaxy. To avoid misunderstandings, they have developed the habit of prefacing statements with the intended emotional content.

An example:

We can apply this same concept to our ambiguous messages online. I call it the Elcor Messaging Standard or EMS (That won’t confuse anyone right?). This process solves EVERYTHING! We developed the standard practice today and it works brilliantly. Just include your tone in [square brackets] before any statement that might need clarification on the emotional content and you’re golden.

Need convincing? Here are some useful examples.

“I love you” That, could mean anything right? Just add EMS and clarity shines through:
[with wistful affection] I love you.
[pleading for forgiveness] I love you.
[with lustful anticipation] I love you.

See the power of EMS?

What about in an argument?
“I suppose you’re right.” Seems clear, but add EMS and you get to the root:
[reluctant acceptance] I suppose you’re right.
[dismissive sarcasm] I suppose you’re right.
[epiphanous delight] I suppose you’re right.

Or in more casual context?
“I’m hungry.” A common and rarely misunderstoon statement, but add EMS and it becomes so much more:
[informative statement] I’m hungry.
[with urgency] I’m hungry.
[cannibalistic threat] I’m hungry.

[comedic enthusiasm] See how much EMS can do for us in our everyday lives. [energetic mock-rant] No more text based misunderstandings, no more witty jokes lost to mismatched contexts of the readers, no more internet arguments started by misinterpreted intent.

[heartfelt plea] give it a go. Try it with your friends and let the clarity of communication abound!

[genuine amusement]Also, you have never experienced Hamlet, until you have seen it done by an all Elcor cast.


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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  1. [amused reminiscence] I help moderate an imageboard (on a break at the moment though) and I tried to push the idea of “Elcor time” a couple of years ago.
    [regretful contemplation] Unfortunately beyond a thread or two it did not take off despite there being a couple of us that tried to push for it. We could not get enough people interested. [sincere hopefulness] I hope you get it more attention because I would agree that emotional intention is a big problem on the internet when it comes to all sorts of conversation.

  2. [With cheerful enthusiasm] I’ve never seen anyone use the exact format of the Elcor method, but I have seen a lot of similar things around fora. In some cases through the colour of the text, but in a lot of cases it’s by ending with something like “[/sarcasm]” or adding a description of a reaction to the post (e.g. ” *Tilts head in confusion… tilting… falls of chair from tilting* “). So at least some people seem to like the idea to some extend.

    [With concerned ponderousness] My only issue is that it can be pretty difficult to know exactly how to describe your tone and that it can feel a bit like it alters the message to state it outright (e.g. Stating matter-of-factly that you’re saying something happily can come off as sarcastic and saying that you’re angry can come off as being very very angry). Might just be a transitional thing, though, [with optimism] and it sounds fun. ^_^’

  3. [With approval] It reminds me of the “attitudinal indicator” system in the constructed language Lojban. The language includes a whole bunch of short word roots for emotions which can be tacked onto a word or sentence to indicate how the speaker feels about it. E.g., “le ckafe bredi” means “The coffee is ready”, but “.ui.o’u le ckafe bredi” means something like, “[with relaxed happiness] The coffee is ready.” (If you’re wondering, in Lojban, a c is like /sh/ in English, a period is a glottal stop, and an apostrophe can be rendered as either like /h/ or /th/.) The constructed language Láadan (which was designed as a linguistic experiment to test certain feminist ideas about language) also has similar features. I seem to remember reading something by Suzette Haden Elgin, the linguist who created Láadan, indicating that she was inspired at least partly by a feature of certain natural languages, but I can’t remember exactly.

  4. I think the human brain’s pattern recognition ability is too good for these to work. We immediately see these as data, not metadata, and read intent into their exact phrasing, interpolating and extra layer of tone. I just talk like a text book all the time to avoid the problems of ambiguity.

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