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Subtext is a term that came into use in the 1950s, and may be confusing. We will examine the definition of the word subtext, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Subtext is the implied idea behind a written or spoken work, or a conversation. Subtext may be a metaphor that drives the work, the motivation that drives a character, or the theme of the work. Subtext is sometimes used to signify a hidden meaning that a speaker is trying to imply, indirectly. The term was used in the mid-1800s to simply mean printed text that is situated below the main text. The current meaning of subtext came into use in the 1950s, introduced by Konstantin Stanislavsky, who pioneered a method of acting. Related words are subtexts, subtextual, subtextually.


“I’ve done standup since I was a kid so I have an understanding of hecklers, and to me, everything a heckler says, the subtext is, ‘I exist, right?'” (The Los Angeles Times)

And then there was the subtext in the brief speech itself, a subtext made flesh by the presence, in a doorway just off-screen, of National Security Advisor John Bolton: Regime change. (Haaretz)

Hitchcock knew how to keep tension simmering while layering in a moral subtext that gave audiences something to chew on later. (The Rolling Stone)

The best way to watch congressional hearings, which often give a very clear view of the vast gulf between democratic theory and democratic practice, is to watch what is not being said, the subtext beneath all the stilted formality and the limited time for each legislator to question the witness. (Esquire Magazine)