Wednesday, 10 September 2014

How ‘XOXO’ Came To Mean Hugs & Kisses



Have you ever wondered about the letters ‘X’ and ‘O’ which we add to our correspondence in e-mails, messages, and letters as a lovey-dovey signature? I did. After doing a little research I found that no one knows for sure the exact origin, which got me even more curious. Here are some of the available speculations about those universal symbols.


For the
X’, it is known that in the Middle Ages when many people were unable to read or write, documents were often signed using an X. Kissing the X represented an oath to fulfill obligations specified in the document and to demonstrate sincerity. Eventually, the X and the kiss became synonymous. Once it became a sacred symbol, it came to mean “faith and fidelity.”

Another theory suggests that
X’ first started being used as a substitute for “Christ” by religious scholars about a millennium ago. Some said even earlier with the rise of Christianity, because this is how ultimately Xmas became an alternative for Christmas, and later Xian for Christian. However, the X’ here is not actually the English X we are familiar with, but rather the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter in the Greek word for “Christ” represented by a symbol similar to the letter X in the modern Roman alphabet.

What we do know according to the Oxford English Dictionary is, the first usage of Xs to mean kisses came in a letter by a priest, Gilbert White, in 1763:

I am with many a xxxxxxx and many a Pater noster (Our Father) and Ave Maria (Hail Mary), Gil. White.

Although it seems here that the priest may have actually meant “blessings” not “kisses”. The reason why it is believed so is that there has been no single usage of X that could mean a kiss for a whole century after that letter.

By the mid-19th century, there were numerous references to
X’ meaning “kiss”, such as in Aunt Judy’s Magazine which was published circa 1866-1885.


As for the
‘O’, the origin is even more obscure.

The most popular theory builds on the earlier theory regarding ‘X’ meaning ‘Christ’. It goes that the
O’ is of North American descent; and when illiterate Jewish immigrants — or those who could not use Latin alphabet letters — were unable to sign their own John Hancock upon arriving to the U.S and refusing to use the customary X due to its association with the cross of Christianity. So instead, they got used to drawing a circle on documents as a signature.

Incidentally, many etymologists believe this is how the racial slur for Jewish people “kike” came about. The Yiddish word for “circle” is kikel (pronounced KY-kul), and for “little circle” kikeleh (pronounced KY-kul-uh). Before long, the immigration inspectors were calling anyone who signed with an O in place of an X a kikel or kikeleh or kikee, then eventually and concisely, kike.

The debut of the
O’ for a hug took place sometime between late-19th and early-20th century. But how the X’ and the O’ got together is a bigger mystery. Some hypothesize that the children game Tic Tac Toe brought them together.
 

Others went even further with claiming that X’ means hugs and O’ means kisses since we say “hugs and kisses”. However, X being identified with a kiss is earlier than O being identified with a hug, so this one cannot be true.

Apart from all this distant history, the more romantic and way simpler speculation I found is that X symbolizes the lips being in kissing position as two faces, while the O represents an embrace as arms hugging seen from above.


And now you know the whole drill XO


 

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