February 14 • Bars
XOXO; What it means (and can you drink it?)
Most people understand XOXO means hugs and kisses. It’s a short, simple way to sign off on a cute valentine to a family member or loved one. While it may be more romantic to write out the full phrase – it’s kind of hard to do with a glass of wine in your hand.
If you want to really wow your valentine, explain the root of the shorthand XOXO, and then prepare them a cocktail drink like the XOXO – because nothing heats up the room like a bit of trivia.
Why does XOXO mean “hugs and kisses”?
In short – We just don’t know. Sometimes shorthand develops over a long period of obvious changes in written language. Other times, it just kind of…appears. This is a case of the latter.
To be fair, it’s not that there are no cases of people using the letters; people have signed off with XOXO for the past couple centuries to mean hugs and kisses. It’s simply that no one ever decided to write down why they had done it!
History of XOXO
To really explain it, we have to go a bit farther back.
The letter X has been used for many things over the years.
For instance, in the Middle Ages, when most people could neither read nor write, they often signed off with an ‘X’ instead of their name. This may have represented the cross that the Christian prophet Jesus died on. This was like saying “In Jesus’ name, I sign off on this”.
This is also one theory of how the ‘X’ came to mean ‘kisses’. The theory goes that people would sometimes kiss the ‘X’ after they had signed it much like kissing the bible –perhaps an additional measure of faith in what they were signing on.
This is not a definitive answer, but its as close as we are going to get.
What about ‘O’?
What about ‘O’ indeed. It’s not really a hotly debated topic, but we do have to make some guesses as to where this comes from.
The leading theory has to first accept the previous theory about ‘X’ meaning Christ or the cross. From there, the theory states, it is easy to see how illiterate Jewish immigrants (who do not accept the Christian prophet or the symbolism of the cross) would not want to sign off with an ‘X’ on documents such as immigration papers. So they (we think) chose ‘O’.
And that’s it about that.
Either way, ‘O’ doesn’t appear meaning ‘hugs’ until at least the 60’s…bit of a gap.
So how does that turn in to ‘Hugs and Kisses’?
Again, no definitive answer here. Was it first used as a way to unite Jews and Christians? Who knows. Was it something more simple? Maybe the ‘X’ is a simple cartoon of a puckered mouth ready for a kiss and the ‘O’ is a simple cartoon of two people hugging? Could be.
As with most words in the language, meanings change subtly over time. The use of slang and colloquialisms is always a bit of a gray area to the people who are not using it. They didn’t have urban dictionary at the time, so a bit of this everyday phrase is lost to history.
But now at least you know the possible root of the shorthand XOXO. And if talking about hugging and kissing for this long isn’t enough to get a smooch from your valentine – maybe they aren’t worth those candy hearts.
Making the XOXO
Then again, you could always try making your lucky valentine a cocktail inspired by the phrase itself – The XOXO:
While it won’t solve the mystery of language and how we use it, the XOXO is a rich way to wind down after a romantic night.
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