13 October 2013

X and O Hugs and Kisses

Have you ever added "hugs and kisses" to a card or letter by adding some X or O characters?  It has come to be that  O = Hug and X = Kiss. But why?

According to urbandictionary.com, looking at those characters as representing two people from a bird's eye view, makes the "O"into the arms of those persons hugging each other while the "X" is evocative of two people kissing each other. I don't buy that origin story.

But hugs and kisses, as in  XOXO, is a term used for expressing sincerity, faith, love, or good friendship at the end of a written correspondence and now in email or text messages.

I did some searching online and there are far older and more complicated origin tales.

Putting X's on correspondence to mean kisses seems to date back to the Middle Ages. At that time, putting a Christian cross on documents or letters was supposed to signify sincerity, faith, and honesty. You then placed a literal kiss upon the cross by the signer as a display of their sworn oath.

Even earlier, when most people could not read or write, the 'X' was placed on documents as a signature and a kiss placed upon it as a show of their sincerity.

Chi Rho
The Chi Rho, often represented in the simpler form of a letter 'X', was also used as a holy symbol throughout Christian history as it represented the Greek word for Christ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ.  This also led to the practice of using the letter 'X', once again kissed, as a way of displaying a sacred oath.

The 'O' is far more modern and is of North American descent. Jewish immigrants arriving to the United States, and whose first language was Yiddish, would use an 'O' to sign documents - deliberately not using the sign of the cross. Shopkeepers would often use an 'O' when signing documents, in place of an 'X'.

But how that became a "hug" is something I have not discovered.  Post a comment if you have more to add to this story.

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